Judith Vaughan Clarkson & Jeffery (Jeff) Edward Clarkson Interview

Erica Tenquist interviewing Judith Vaughan Clarkson and Jeffery Edward Clarkson at Havelock North and the date today is 22nd June 2018. Over to you Judith.

Judith: Right, I was born on 6th [January] 1941, born in Hastings; second child of Alfred Lowe and Claire Lowe. And I lived down Nottingley Road right next door to my grandparents and my two old maiden aunts, Phoebe and Molly. My father went to the war, and was killed in Italy in 1944. My mother remarried Alfred William Gadd, commonly known as Oscar, when I was seven and I was blessed with the most wonderful step-father. They had a son, Murray, together who’s ten years younger than myself; he has a doctorate in English Literature, and is very prominent in New Zealand and overseas for his work with literacy in children. I have a sister who’s four years older than myself; went dental nursing. She died last year, and she was eighty. She died at Otatara Heights nursing home in Taradale. My mother died when she was sixty-seven, and my step-father died when he was seventy-four.

Did they both die in Hawkes Bay?

In Hastings – they did. My mother’s death was very unexpected; she was only sixty-seven, and soon afterwards my father had a terrible stroke. But he recovered physically but never got any speech back at all, so he couldn’t read, write or speak. But he lived by himself with his little dog, Costly, a little daschund; best companion – they were wonderful mates. Yes.

Jeff and I met when we were eighteen and we married when we were both just twenty-one, so … however many years that is. [Chuckle] Fifty-something years, isn’t it?

Fifty-three, is it?

Jeff: That sounds about right.

Judith: And we had three children – Grant was the eldest, and Grant was a very good footballer. He played professional football, right on the edge of the … before the big money. But he played football professionally for Manly in Australia, and also in London. But he got his diploma in Agriculture at Massey, but now he’s a shearer, he does shearing, it’s like a game for him, like ‘ready, set, go!’ [Chuckle] But he loves it. And he’s married with two little girls, nine and seven.

And then our second son, Simon, is not married. He lives here in Havelock North but he is quite a prominent architect – Simon Clarkson Architects – he’s won lots of prizes.

And Susan, our daughter … we had these three children, like three under three, I might tell you. Our daughter is a pharmacist and she owns her own shop in Palmerston [North] and they’ve now come to live in Maraekakaho, and so she just does locuming these days. And she has two big boys, her and her husband. Her married name is Judd; she’s married to Darryl Judd, and they have Andrew who’s twenty-three, and Devon who’s nearly 6’5”, [chuckle] who’s twenty-one. Yes, so …

Can I go back to the Lowes – you know, right at the beginning; is it George Lowe? Can you put in a bit about him, please?

Yes, certainly. George was brought up … my Uncle Arch and Aunt Teen owned Sunnybank, and George was the youngest in that family. It was quite a large … I don’t know how many children, but at least five.

Where is Sunnybank?

Jeff: Where Camberley is now.

It’s changed its name?

Well, there’s a Sunnybank Street I think …

Judith: No, Lowe Street. And they had a shop there that they used to sell fruit. But George was never home, he was always climbing or something, but like Ed Hillary, [Sir Edmund Hillary] his two passions were the bees …

Jeff: They formed a close friendship, he and Ed Hillary; this is before Everest.

Judith: Yes they did … they did. ‘Cause they both loved to climb, and both of them were apiarists, but George had a particular interest in photography so he did all the photos for the …

Do the family have any of those photos at all?

Oh, I’m sure they probably … they’re all in a book.

What is the name of the book?

Oh, I’ll get it for you, I’ve got it there somewhere.

I started at Mahora and I had to go on a tricycle because I was too little for a bike, all the way down Nottingley Road, right up Lyndhurst Road which was all shingle, then right along Pakowhai Road to Frederick Street, then down Frederick Street to Mahora School. When I got to school the teacher, she was a lovely old lady, used to put me in a corner with the rug and I’d have a sleep. [Chuckles]

I’ll just go on to say that I took up nursing at the Memorial Hospital when I was eighteen; became a registered nurse when I was twenty-one. And I’ve had a very long involvement with nursing in lots of different pheres; [spheres] like at Pongaroa I was the public health nurse, which was a huge job; it was a radius of twenty miles. I was like the doctor; and I was a sister in charge of a ward. I’ve had a big nursing career really – stood me in great stead.

We’ll come back to the nursing. Judith’s going to tell us about this book that George Lowe wrote about he and Ed Hillary.

It’s called ‘Nothing Venture, Nothing Win’. It’s really the history of George and Ed, who were very good friends, and how they climbed down south. They went on several big climbs before they … and they both were apiarists; they had lots of things in common.

And did you see the grandsons on TV this week?

Who – Hillary’s?


No, I didn’t. Peter’s children?

Peter’s children. And they’re both doing a line of clothing, and also they’re both following to give money to the Kathmandu area.

Jeff: Did see something like that, yes.

Judith: The Nepalese.

And they look so like Ed, one of them particularly.

Jeff: Very distinctive.

Judith: Anyway, there was a funny story about when George came back from Everest. I went over there, and he said, “Here we are, I’ll give you this.” And it was a cake of chocolate wrapped up,, and he said, “It’s been all the way to the top of Everest.” So on the way home I opened it of course and then I tasted it. And it was so bitter! ‘Cause it would have been full of vitamins, you see, and I thought, ‘Oh, yuck!’ So I threw it away, and when I got home I told my mother. She was very cross with me. [Chuckle]

She would be. [Chuckle] Did any of the rest of George Lowe’s family go climbing as well?

He had a cousin that climbed – a woman, but her name – I can’t remember it. Her name was Miss Hill; she was a school teacher, actually.

From here?

Yes, she was; she was from down Lyndhurst Road somewhere there.

And you were going to talk a bit about that hundred year old cloth …


How it was done and who did it.

Oh, right. Well the lace for the cloth was made by my step-father’s sister. Her name was Bertha. She was twenty-one; she was engaged to be married. She contracted TB [tuberculosis] and so she was put in the Sanatorium, which is in Waipukurau on the hill. And so she sat up there doing her trousseau … glory box, I suppose you’d call it. And the item that I brought to show you was the afternoon tea cloth where she had handmade all the lace, which I think is particularly beautiful. To my knowledge that’s the only thing that remains of what she did do for her trousseau.

Can we have her name again in full?

I can’t remember what her second name was, but her name was Bertha Gadd. [Spells]

And she would have been in the Sanatorium in the 1940s?

It would have to be forties, wouldn’t it? So … I could go to her gravestone – her father, and my step-father’s father, was the monumentalist at the time, so he made all the headstones for the cemetery here in Hastings. She’s buried here in Hastings – yes, I could almost go to the plot where she’s buried.

Anyone else of that family?

In the Gadds? No, not really. Jack Gadd, Dad’s only brother, worked at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers for many, many, many years.

Now we’ll go back to your nursing; so you did your training here at Hastings?


And did you do any nursing in the Wairarapa … in Masterton area for instance?

Yes I did … I did. Well we farmed at Pongaroa, which was forty miles from the nearest town. And I was the public health nurse, which means you are the Plunket nurse as well; and my area was a twenty mile radius. I had my own government car. And I attended everything, you know – from somebody having a baby to accidents, deaths – several deaths. When it was a death they had a local policeman as well; Graeme Leppien [?] who came from Hastings. And he and I used to attend the sudden deaths. But it was a big job because you worked five days, on call seven; and with three little kids and a farm – [you] could say I was busy. And I taught gymnastics at the school.

Did you do any other sports?

No. Oh, yes – I played golf.

Jeff: And tennis when you were young.

Judith: Oh yes. Yes, I was in the Hawke’s Bay Junior tennis team when I was young.

Now, how long have you been back here?

Jeff: ‘Bout twenty-three years now … yes, twenty-four years …

Judith: Yes. We came back here and we bought a piece of land down Napier Road opposite Mangapapa Lodge, and our son, Simon, designed us a beautiful home on it. And Jeff made a fabulous job – Jeff paints as well – and he made a fabulous job of landscaping … how many acres?

Jeff: Oh, it was eight acres.

Judith: Eight acres; nearly all grass, but all with long views and long ponds and things. He’s very clever.

Did you do landscaping generally round the district as well?

Jeff: No. No, I had an interest in it, and before we moved into that place we’d spent a year in France, and we’d seen some wonderful gardens there.

Judith: We lived in France for a year.

What were you doing in France?

Jeff: Well when we sold the farm … ‘course when you sell a farm you sell your house and everything with it. And they also wanted everything else – all the machinery, cars, trucks, tractors – everything, and we ended up with just some furniture in storage and an old ute, [utility] so we decided, “What will we do?” And we decided we’d go for a holiday; and we decided, “Well we might as well go away for a year”, because we had no mortgage, no power bills, no rates. And it worked out very well.

Judith: Bought a car …

What did you do in France? Travel round?

Nothing. Travel.

Jeff: Travelled – eventually we bought a car. We were very fortunate, we had a wonderful place to stay. It was a studio attached to a 17th century farmhouse, in a small village in the south of France. And I paint – I was quite keen on painting then.

When you say painting you mean …

Art, yes.

Watercolours or oils?

Both actually. And Judy was [a] very keen bridge player so she played bridge over there a lot. But every few weeks we’d take off somewhere else … might be Spain or Italy or somewhere like that.


It was.

Then you came back to Hastings because this was the area you knew?

Absolutely – we’d always kept up our connection with Hawke’s Bay, and Hastings. We still had friends here and the climate was a big draw and so we decided this was the place to be in our retirement.

Judith: We were very lucky, because of a friend from Hastings but she’s lived in Alaska all her married life, in Fairbanks. But she owned a house at Te Awanga on the beach, so we were able to rent her house for a very nominal rate [chuckle] while we built the one down Napier Road. We were very lucky.

Do you regret going from that place up to here?

Jeff: No, the time was right. The upkeep of the grounds and that sort of thing was becoming, rather than a pleasure, a bit onerous, so we decided the time was right to move.

Judith: Jeff has a fantastic hobby that’s been interesting – he makes model aeroplanes, and radio-controlled ones. And in fact his Tiger Moth is about a third real size. [Chuckle]

Jeff’s now going to talk about his grandparents …

I was born [in] Hastings, 20th June 1941. I’m just going to speak briefly about my grandparents and how they came to Hawke’s Bay from South Africa in the 1890s. They could see the Boer War coming and decided to get out of it. So they came to Wellington. They had a letter of introduction to Donald McLean, and subsequently came up to Hawke’s Bay and took up a piece of land which I think Donald McLean had sorted out for them at Maraekakaho. When my grandfather retired to Havelock my father took up a piece of land, part of the station they had there, Glenlyon; but didn’t particularly like that piece of land so he bought a piece of land at Sherenden up the Taihape Road, in 1912. He then volunteered and went to the First World War. His brother looked after the farm while he was away.

My father was supposed to go to Gallipoli, but rather fortunately for him his company went down with English measles, so they quarantined it. And once they’d recovered from that they sent them to Belgium. And the war records show that he spent over nine hundred days in the trenches; survived that though he was wounded at one stage. But he came back to farm at Sherenden, but unfortunately he caught the Spanish flu; very nearly died, but survived that.

He married Ruth Waterhouse there, but unfortunately I think the war experiences changed him considerably, and the marriage didn’t last.

Judith: He was engaged before he went …

Jeff: That’s right. So he subsequently married my mother in the 1930s, and as I said, I was born in 1941. My early childhood memories are riding to school on ponies; some of them were better than others. [Chuckles] They were still good times.

Judith: Got three brothers …

Jeff: The school had a roll of twelve, I think it was – Crownthorpe School. I had three other brothers. I subsequently went to Napier Boys’ High School, boarding, which contrary to some of the other pupils, I actually quite enjoyed. And then I came back to the farm after four years at the high school; worked for my father, but didn’t get on particularly well, so I went bull-dozer driving for Jimmy Burnside down the road.

What were you bull-dozing? Were you bull-dozing roads?

Jeff: No – farm tracks and dams, and scrub crushing. I realised that the home farm wasn’t going to work out for me because with three brothers I had to do something different. So I bought a small block of land … or Judy and I bought a small block of land … just out of Norsewood, and we worked that and …

Judith: The guy kindly left fifty percent of the money in for us.

Jeff: That’s right. And I managed another farm as well while I was there; did a bit of truck driving for a local carrying firm, and we did that for two years, and we decided we needed something bigger so we swapped that place for a farm out at Pongaroa.

Judith: Not a penny changed hands.

Jeff: And after farming at Pongaroa for fourteen years and another sixteen-odd years in Masterton, we decided on our retirement that we’d come back to the Bay, because that was really where our heart was. [Hearts were]

And after selling the farm in the Wairarapa we spent a year in France which we thoroughly enjoyed; it made a great transition from farming to retirement. And by this stage I had also taken up doing some painting, art work painting, and so I did a bit of that over there.

Did you exhibit anywhere here in the Hawkes Bay at all?

Jeff: I have at times.

Judith: He’s sold nearly everything he’s painted.

Jeff: Yes, I sold about forty, but since then my new interest has been flying radio-controlled model aircraft, which I thoroughly enjoy making. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands; and I find that you can make the model, but it’s not just there to look at, you can fly it afterwards which I found rewarding.

And would you do it all again?

Jeff: Oh, absolutely, yes. No, we’ve had a very …

Judith: Been lovely.

Jeff: … fortunate in many ways.

Judith: It has.

Was it your idea to have a lift put in so that you can get into the building here?

It’s our son’s …

Jeff: I think it was our son’s idea … sort of in the sense of future-proofing.

Judith: This house here was a total little shambles – it was a nothing. Simon has designed this to … but retained a lot of the old features like the old ceilings and … see behind you, over here?

Does make a difference.


Jeff: It does.

Judith: He’s very clever.

When you were boarding, did you take part in sport and things like that?

Jeff: Oh, yes. We had to, it was compulsory; and we were very fit in actual fact, because at that stage Napier Boys’ High School dormitories were all flattened or made unsafe by the ’31 earthquake. So they put up these … what we called the ‘loose boxes’ [chuckle] … which were just like stables – open in the front, half doors. But every morning you got up, you had to run around three blocks, then either have a cold shower or a swim across the pool. This was summer and winter, so we were a pretty fit lot. So we enjoyed our sport; we really did. And of course we had to bike to church every Sunday; roll call was taken and woe betide you if you weren’t there.

Judith: You were given two shillings, weren’t you?

Jeff: Yes, which we generally …

Judith: Every week.

Jeff: … we generally spent on going down to the local fish & chip shop and get a shilling’s worth; then you’d go shares with one of the other boys to buy a big block of ice cream. [Laughter]

You didn’t go to the pictures?

Very rarely. But once every couple of months they’d actually show a picture at the hostel – that’s through the old cine camera. No, it was … quite good memories of that.

Now, so this is your grandparents’ book?

Yes, yes. My grandmother …

What was her name?

Alice Blanche Clarkson, born Coleman, 1857.

Brilliant. So this book was put together and typed up … who typed it up?

Judith: Nan Tait.

[Spells] Yes. And she was born in the Western Province of the Cape colony called Mt Pleasant in South Africa?

Jeff: Grandfather’s parents came from England of course, originally from York, I think it was … Yorkshire.

So part of this book is relating to her life in Hawke’s Bay?

Three-quarters or more is Hawke’s Bay.

So it hasn’t got a name …

Judith: Yes, it’s called ‘Grandmother Remembers’.

That’s what its name is?

Jeff: After I left the home farm and we took up this small farm of a hundred and ten acres at Makotuku, which is really between Norsewood and Ormondville – used to be a dairying area actually, but most of them had converted back to sheep at that stage.

Judith: We were only twenty-six.

Jeff: Yes. [Chuckle]

Judith: With three children.

Jeff: It was a very cold place in the winter, but nevertheless it was a great stepping stone. And we were only there for a little over two years, I think it was, but it sort of got us on our way as being independent of the home setup.

So were you doing sheep, cattle and crops?

Sheep mainly, some cattle. Yes, I did a bit of cropping; barley, it was.

Judith: You turned the whole place over, didn’t you, in the time we were there?

Jeff: Yes, it was in pretty poor condition. While we were there in actual fact, was the time the Wahine storm came through, and it took half the woolshed plus the chook house [chuckle] and the hay barn – they all blew away.

Judith: We saw the chook house coming towards us [chuckle] … chooks going everywhere.

Jeff: We had tremendous trouble trying to get someone to repair these things, because of course it was the same for a huge number of other people. In the finish I approached the insurance company and said, “Well, I can do it myself, as long as you pay me.” And they said they were very happy to do that, so I did; and that worked out well for us.

Judith: Jeff also made, while we were there at Makotuku … right from scratch, from welding the chassis, the most beautiful caravan. And it was eighteen foot long, and it looked for all the world like any other brand new caravan.

And what did you tow it with?

Jeff: I had an old HD Holden, 1965 model, very under-powered; and it was [chuckle] quite a struggle to pull this caravan up to Mahia which was our favourite place to go to. I remember one time going up a very steep hill and we were in second gear and I could see it wasn’t going to make it, so I had to drop it down to first. There was no syncromesh into first; I missed the gear, the whole thing stopped; I pulled the handbrake on; the whole handbrake cable came out in my hands. [Chuckle]

Did you push it straight back in?

No. [Chuckle] No, I put my foot firmly on the footbrake …

Judith: I jumped out to run behind it [speaking together]

Jeff: I had to sort of back it right down the hill again and start again. [Chuckles]

Now Maraekakaho … it was only the grandparents?

Judith: Yes, and Jeff’s cousins. They’re still out there now.

Did you plant trees and anything like that on the properties?

The property we had at Pongaroa, which is really right on the boundary of Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa – it had a bad problem with slipping, so I worked in conjunction with the Catchment Board and I planted a hundred and sixty thousand trees there. Some of them I planted myself, but mostly by a gang.

Judith: He did twelve miles of new fencing on that property, himself.

Jeff: But my interest in the crawler tractors from the bull-dozing days … I had two large crawler tractors there as well, to break in the country.

Judith: As you do.

Jeff: [Chuckles] But there was [were] nine hundred ewes and thirty cows when I took it over; there was [were] three thousand ewes and a hundred and thirty cows when I left.

Judith: We worked hard.

Did you have a vegetable garden and things like that?

Judith: Yes.

Jeff: Always. Always … still do now.


Judith: I suddenly remembered, my step-father was very musical. He actually could play the piano … just never had a lesson, but he could play. But he played the trombone and he was in the brass band, and Charlie Bryant, who was his boss at that particular time – he later bought into the firm – was the conductor of the brass band. And as a child we’d go to the park and they’d perform on a Sunday. And sometimes they went in that park with the rotunda? Wherever it was … it was in Hastings here.

The one at Cornwall Park?

I think it was Windsor Park.

Was there a rotunda there then?

I don’t know if it was actually in the park or just a section, and it had the rotunda in the middle of it where the band used to go and people used to just sit on the grass and listen. That was a very long time ago – like, seventy years ago.

And where did you two get married?

Jeff: St Matthew’s.

St Matthews in Hastings?


Judith: We had a full choral wedding, the whole choir and all. And Roswitha Robertson made my dress. I know you’ve got things on Roswitha in your thing [Knowledge Bank] because Rosemary showed me.

I’ve just remembered that my step-father, as I say, was a printer/stationer and book binder. During the earthquake he saved all the newspapers from the earthquake and that period and he bound them all and he lent them to the Tribune; and that’s the records that you’ve got in your establishment.

Yes, in Stoneycroft.

That’s the only existing one as far as I know. Yes. So – and I suddenly remembered that. They sat in the wardrobe in the middle room at home for quite some time before he gave them to … I think he gave them to James Morgan to look after or something.

Yes. Well, thank you very much, Jeff and Judith, for a very interesting interview.

Judith: Oh well, thank you, it’s been interesting for us.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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