Marjory Cecil Fowler Interview
Cecil Fowler, undated interview with Anna Lee and Jenny Williams
Well, my name’s Cecil Fowler. I was born Marjory Cecil Crumpton in 1921 on the 29th June, and at that time my parents lived in Appleby Magna in Leicester, in the centre of England, more or less. I lived in England until when I was ten my parents decided to move out to New Zealand. In England I went to school at a local school and then to boarding school at Folkestone by the Sea.
And then in 1931 … oh, we did have holidays overseas; we had two wonderful holidays in Switzerland, and we also holidayed usually in beach places in England. But 1931 in November we set sail for NZ on the MV (Motor Vessel) ‘Port Fremantle’ of the Commonwealth and Dominion Line; came to New Zealand via Panama. And we came on a ship that had only room for twelve passengers, and … actually worked out my father came as ship’s doctor, and we formed half the passengers on the ship. We did stop at Panama which was interesting, and then briefly at Auckland, but finally went ashore in Wellington where we lived for the next few months.
My parents took a house at Lower Hutt in Old Military Road. Those of us of school age went to school; my older sisters and brother went with my parents on different trips by car. We had an – I think it was an Avon Ford – round – I don’t think they went to the South Island, but round the North Island looking for somewhere where they wanted to live. Finally my father, on a trip to Hawke’s Bay, decided he’d found the right place and sent a telegram to the effect that he’d found this house. He called it a ‘baronial bungalow’ – bungalow because we were not used to one storey houses; baronial because of the wood panelling in the hall. That was where we decided to settle. And at that stage the house had been unoccupied since the earthquake which had been approximately a year before – the Napier Earthquake – but the repairs had been done. But old Mrs Ellison for whom the house had been built – I think by her brother Mason Chambers up the hill – she didn’t want to go back and live there. The earthquake really I suppose, gave her a fright. So we moved up there.
I had most of a term at school in Lower Hutt, and then we came up to Hawke’s Bay in April and settled. All our stuff … all our furniture followed us to Te Puna. The house had been neglected for a year; or I don’t know if the house had been neglected but the garden had been neglected, and so my father was immediately interested in getting it the way he wanted it, and I suppose my mother was doing the same in the house.
Those of us school age, the three of us – my elder sister, Nancy, and my brother, Lee, were both left school, but Janet who was six years my senior, and Kathryn and I went as day pupils to Iona College, which was a mile’s walk away. In those days there was no high school in Havelock, and so that was a convenient school for us to go to. It was walking a mile down the hill, down Tanner Street and up the other side of the hill, and we used to walk each day to school and back. We had to be there at eight in the morning. Later, my sister Kathryn – and then later I – were in the school orchestra which meant we had to be there before eight in the morning to get into line with the orchestra to play the morning hymns for assembly.
How many students did you say there were roughly?
Iona’d suffered very much from the ‘quake. They’d been closed for a year because the building had had to be rebuilt. It was rebuilt very carefully of anti-earthquake stuff, not with brick, because there were so many disasters happened during the big ‘quake with the brick; so it was built of light material. But anyhow, my older sisters didn’t last as long as I did, but I was there for – I think from Standard 4 to when I left with my UE [University Entrance] finally achieved. Yes.
Were you a model student?
No. [Chuckles] I was tolerated very much. But I was an active student in every sense of the word, looking back on it. I suppose we had a lot of opportunities because it was a small school. Later on I was in the orchestra which was a great experience; learnt the violin, and like a lot of the kids I did piano lessons and speech training. I was lucky I got the lead in the school play when I was in the 4th Form, which was quite a special thing. I played the part of Charlotte Bronte in a play about her and had to die touchingly on the stage.
But I was very active in … as I say, being a small school I suppose we all were involved in things … so I was in stuff like the speech and the drama, and then in sport in the hockey and tennis team; was very keen on tennis. Was never top of the ladder – I was one from the top of the ladder; I never got to the top of the ladder.
We had a lot of opportunities to have a lot of different kind of activities. One of the things we had was Saturday nights, ‘cause being a boarding school the kids had to be entertained I suppose on Saturday, and we had a lot of experience putting on plays, making up plays; and Saturday nights a class or a group would put on entertainment for the rest of the school. So I got very interested in plays and drama and that kind of thing.
The staff there were … some of them remained friends after we left school. Miss Seaward was the art teacher. I don’t know that she was ever my friend. When I went back years later to teach there, I remember her coming back and looking through the window into the classroom where I was teaching; and to the amazement of the pupils who were in the class, turning round and pulling faces at me and waving her arms and so on to indicate that she was surprised to see me in the role of teacher instead of being … I suppose of course, I had been such a horrible child. Yes.
Did she teach you?
Yep, ‘cause she taught all the art. But she was very good with the kids letting them do quite a variety of activities according to how much time they’d got available, I suppose. A sister who was in the 6th form and had an art period did quite a lot of different kind of art activity, whereas I never got as far as that and I only had her when I was a junior at the school. I met her as a teacher of course but I didn’t have the benefit of her teaching in terms of being an art student.
And what was your nickname for her?
Oh “Seabird” of course. [Chuckles] But she was never a disliked person. She was quite a character. Some of the teachers there … “Willie”, who was the music teacher for many years … she remained a friend until her death a few years ago.
Do you remember her surname?
Miss Williamson. Winifred Williamson I think, but “Willie” was always … well, her nickname. The Principal when we first went there was Miss Stollery, who I am going to try to describe as a rather magnificent woman. And she ended up … at the end of my 3rd or 4th Form year she was Principal of the school, and she married the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr J B Campbell, whose father was the founder of the school. We had great fun of course, children being what they are, watching with great interest from the upper windows when JB brought her back from taking her out for [an] evening, or [chuckles] … you can imagine the interest and the positive bookings on the right windows where you had a good view. [Chuckles]
Was she the Principal who talked about the girls in the village?
Yes. Oh, she would dramatise things. She was a brilliant … she would’ve been on the stage if it hadn’t been for … she had a very serious limp. She’d had polio and so she walked with a pronounced limp. But during the war she gave play readings in Hastings that used to fill the Town Hall, or no, it wasn’t called the Town Hall, it was called the something … Anyhow she used to give play readings to raise funds for the Patriotic Fund or whatever. But she would dramatise occasions, and I can remember her taking assembly and coming in looking gravely in the distance, which always meant that she’d got something terrible to tell us. “Gels, I’ve had some terrible news yesterday. Two of our gels were seen down the village …” and we thought, ‘Ooh, what’s coming next?’ [Chuckles] “… without their gloves”. [Chuckles] And so that of course … nobody was allowed to laugh out loud at that, but the cynical older ones laughed silently, I suppose. She made a drama of things.
I thought you were going to use her voice.
I think you should.
Oh – “Gels!” Yeah – no, I can’t do it. [Chuckles] But she was sometimes a good principal and sometimes less wise, I suppose – everyone has their own wisdom.
While she was there there was a lot of emphasis given to drama. Our plays used to be really quite magnificent affairs. Miss Seaward used to do the stage setting with the old fashioned flys on the side of the stage. I can remember one year there was a snow scene with glowing windows and snow on the flys and the backdrop and so on. It was really quite magnificent. This is just for a school production; that would be, in the interval, taken down and a different set of flys put up for the next act in the play or whatever it was.
Janet got very involved in the drama; she was the oldest of the three of us who went to Iona, and Janet later on went to drama school – The Acton Bond Drama School – and from then on went into working on the stage for a while until the war interrupted all that.
Kathryn was strongly academic. She was a very good conscientious student and worked hard; did her homework and did everything that she should do. And I was a disaster I think, because I didn’t do any of those things.
Tell us about some of the things that you did do which are quite … well, very memorable, and may not’ve been done by students since.
Yes … ooh, [chuckles] I got into various forms of strife. I do remember one day we were … I’ve forgotten the occasion, it was some occasion … so there was no schoolwork that day, and we could take what we liked outside – our reading or our sewing or anything else we chose to do, sports, and spend the day like that. Only I got sidetracked, because I’d never been for [an] exploring expedition upstairs; and so I got another student to join me and we went up to the third floor and there was a manhole in the ceiling that I also wanted to go through. And so we went through the manhole in the ceiling, and got through up on to the … so we were between the tiles and the ceiling. And the stupid girl stuck her foot through the plaster board that was between the beams, and so – I mean I was very evil going up there in the first place, but I couldn’t do damage without admitting it. So I can remember going down and knocking on the Principal’s door, and I thought she was so stupid that I wasn’t taking all the blame myself. [Chuckles] I think I was bad-tempered. Anyhow, Mac came towards me; Miss McNeil – I suppose she saw trouble in the distance when she saw me, I don’t know. [Chuckles] But I said, “Please Miss McNeil, we’ve put our foot through the third storey ceiling”. [Chuckles] And she did ask me to repeat it. And this was one of the difficult moments of my career, but there you are. But that’s what happened, but Mac was wonderful.
Did she succeed Stollery?
Yes, she was academic; I think a very bright woman. As far as I was concerned she was quite wonderful as a Principal, both when I was a pupil, in spite of the strife I got into, and later on I went back to teach there, and she employed me as a teacher after all that.
I used to normally walk to school – oh, probably normally biked to school most of the time, occasionally walked. It was just a mile from our house across to the school, and they didn’t have many pupils. After the ‘quake the numbers went down to the thirties, and so when we were enrolled at Iona the numbers went from thirty-six to thirty-nine I think; that was halfway through the first term it would’ve been. So my older sister was put in an odd-bod kind of a class – forgotten what they called it; and Kathryn went into the 3rd Form, and I was put into Standard 4. I don’t know on what basis. Nobody tried us out to see what we were doing or anything, but that’s what happened. I stayed there until I’d got my UE and become a prefect and things like that.
We got very into our country life, and we had two cows – Camel, we called her Camel because she had rather a lumpy back; and then later on we had another one called Primrose because she was a sort of creamy colour. And Nancy became quite interested in farming and that kind of thing, and milked the cows, and Lee learned to milk the cows too. And then we got a pig pen built, but … oh yes, before we got the pig pen built, we got the pigs didn’t we? And that was probably a mistake. [Chuckles]
But Nancy and I were dispatched to Hastings with the car to the sales – Saturday – to buy two pigs which we duly did and some efficient men put them in a box and put the box on the carrier, which in those days with an A30 … A whatever it was … Ford car; had this outside carrier at the back. And we were just crossing Havelock bridge when there was a kind of sharp staccato sound, and I looked out of the back window and saw two pigs on the bridge. Because it was Saturday sales everyone had finished shopping midday Saturday, and everyone was coming out of Hastings to Havelock; and there were the two pigs in the middle of the bridge, in the middle of this. And so we got out of the car to try and catch the pigs and a lot of men on their way back from work also got out of their cars, and we had a pig chase in the middle of the Havelock bridge. Nancy was an attractive young woman and so I think there was no lack of kind helpers who came to help. [Chuckle] We finally got the pigs back in the crate and they were put in a shed for the night. And then early the next morning we could see the pigs half way up the Peak, [chuckle] working their way firmly up, heading towards the Tuki Tuki, you might say. And so they had quite a run for it those pigs, I reckon.
Did you have horses?
We had horses; Lee had a grey; we all had horses to begin with. Lee had a grey horse called Steel – nice horse – about sixteen hands, I think. For a while Janet had one which she loved very much; but then somehow, some muck up, but we thought we were buying it and then the person decided that no, they weren’t selling it, or something. So that was sort of a shame. Then Nancy had a fall off her horse; had quite bad concussion and was in bed for quite a time. And that must have been in the first year or so we were there.
Lee went to Ruakura to learn to farm. In those days there was a kind of trainee place that took, as it were, cadets on. And after that he worked in various kinds of farms, sheep, pig, cows and different kinds of ones he went and worked at.
Nancy went to Lower Hutt – no, Upper Hutt – and learnt poultry farming, and started a poultry farm.
At Te Puna?
At Te Puna, yes, in the paddock uphill of us – the paddock more or less to the east or south east of the house, behind the garage.
Janet and my mother went to England for a year. Janet was never happy that we’d come to New Zealand, and she wanted very much to get into drama which she later did. And she went to a drama school in London – Acton Bond Drama School. My mother came back after visiting her sister who had just lost her husband. So that left Lee on farms, and Nancy doing various things, and Kathryn going on through school. And she went down to Canterbury University where she stayed at Bishop Julius Hostel, then later on came back and taught at Iona before going down to Wellington where she worked in a government department for a while.
My father got very involved with local activities, like … Once the war came of course, he was a retired doctor and he gave lectures to the Red Cross, various groups; and my mother had always painted and she always exhibited at the art show in Napier. The Hawke’s Bay Arts thing used to have a show every year, and she always had her paintings in that – watercolours.
Nancy did various jobs. She worked at one stage selling stuff down in Wellington, and I went and spent the holidays there with her which was very interesting. She was selling really exquisite linen and silks and that kind of thing. She would get invited to this place to display it; it wasn’t going out and a hard sell or anything like that, it was just doing a beautiful display of the art stuff for a group of people.
Then maybe you might like to talk about her shop in ..?
Yes; and she had a shop in Napier, the Bluebird Florist, just downhill from the Masonic Hotel. It would be on the west side, I suppose, of the Masonic Hotel. There were some little shops there and she had the one next to the hotel. While in Wellington she had worked in a florist shop and so learnt how to do floral work, so that was her main interest.
Would you like to talk about the railway?
Oh, Nancy had a lot of friends. She had a very kind heart and was always looking after people. One of the people she looked after – her name was Hurricane Kate. Her problem had been that she got on to meths [methylated spirits] in her thirties and it hadn’t done her any good, but I think Nancy probably found her in a state where she needed some help and gave her the help that was needed.
But there were various people she got to know and people got to know her, and I remember there was a train driver who drove a slow train. I think it was the one that went to Waipawa each day. He would stop the train if he saw some really nice grasses that he thought Nancy would like for her window in her shop; and he would stop the train and get off and pick the grasses for her and bring them back, because she was, as I say, she seemed to meet people and get to know people like that.
Meantime you were riding round the Havelock Hills on your pony?
Yes. Oh, that was a bit later that she had the shop. But I had a pony as a child. We all had a chance for one but things happened to the others. But I had Saucy for quite a long time until I was in the 3rd Form and was boarding at Iona and so I couldn’t exercise it, and to my great indignation it was given to somebody else to have.
Where did you go?
I used to ride over the hills, often with the shepherds who’d have to check … there were sheep all over the hills and of course you have to check sheep each day to make sure they’re not cast or anything else awkward happen to them. There was an old gentleman who’d fought in World War I, Mr Drummond; I used to ride with him sometimes when he went round some paddocks that he looked after. And I also used to … before that and after that, there were … I suppose they were brothers, they were Rangi and Cargill Joll; they had paddocks they had to cover and check and I would go out with them. Looking back on it, what nice young blokes they must’ve been. They must have been twenty-ish, and I’m a scruffy ten or twelve year old trotting along joining in. But it was interesting, because I saw different life with them from what I saw from home. And I remember there were people down in the village – no, not down in the village; in those days you could clearly distinguish between, you might say, the village and the hillage. Girls from the village would come up and do the chores in the houses in the hillage. That would be right. I lost my thread there.
You said you saw a variety of life …
And anyhow, one time – I think it was when I was riding with Rangi and Cargill ‘cause they’d allow me to sort of tag along and help, which was great of them looking back on it – I can remember one time coming along and there was furniture put out by the side of the road between the house – there was a ditch – and the road. One of the boys talking to the other made some remark about it and it was kind of hushed up by the other. But what had happened was that an elderly couple rented this house from a well known Hawke’s Bay/Havelock personality. And the man had an annuity, or a monthly whatever-you-call-it, and he had died. The landlord, knowing he would get no more money from them, had had the furniture taken out of the house and the house made available for somebody else to have. And I can remember the two young men, one of them making some very bitter remarks and being shushed up by his brother as being unsuitable language in front of a lady, kind of business. I suppose it was that.
Do you know what happened to the widow?
No, I don’t know.
Do you remember Bob Given, the blacksmith?
Oh yes, ‘cause I’d take my pony to be shod there. And I don’t know what he remembered about me, but when I came back to New Zealand with the kids we went round the village, and I had to show the kids the blacksmiths’ shop. I mean, I knew it was something really fascinating. And when he looked at me and found out who I was and that kind of thing, he laughed and laughed and laughed. [Chuckles] I don’t know what he was laughing at; I’ll never know. [Chuckles] But – to see me bringing in kids of my own age, you know. Yeah – that remains a mystery.
He was a great character wasn’t he?
Yes, he was very nice, ‘cause if he was doing my pony I would of course stay to supervise. Yeah.
And he never wore …
Never wore a shirt.
… anything on his top.
He just wore the leather apron over his trousers, even in braces. He was Scottish and he had the braces. And he had false teeth which he’d sort of push out while he was thinking. But very hardy.
I’d see him striding across the village to the Post Office to pick up his mail with his big apron slung in front of him.
Do you remember Miss Dyson?
Dorothy Dyson, yes.
Who rode horses? Loved horses.
She later taught Bob Given; when Bob’s wife died she taught him to cook.
I remember that, vaguely. Yeah.
What do you remember about Dorothy Dyson?
I remember her telling … there was something, it must’ve been some musical on, some Gilbert & Sullivan … and I can remember her telling my parents that she preferred grand opera to comic opera. ‘Cause she came from I think a well-to-do family.
Poor lady, she lived in absolute poverty up Duart Road.
You know the brick building just down Duart from the top of Muritai Crescent? There was a little space in there, and it went down into a paddock and there was a little wee …
Oh that’s right.
And she lived in there. But she loved her horses.
She had two horses and she would spend her life riding them, or leading them, or cutting grass for them. And of course everybody thought she was absolutely eccentric but she was an interesting person.
So, do you want to tell about the farm manager?
Well I almost did. There was a time when my brother-in-law was asked to go and spend the night with a highly esteemed elder of the Presbyterian Church. The elder of the Presbyterian Church – and a highly esteemed, important person – had socially made passes at his station manager’s wife; for the station manager to stay behind and not go round the sheep that day and to come to the rescue of his wife and threaten to horsewhip this respected Havelock gentleman. And I think Bernard was asked to go and stay the night there for a few nights in case he did come and carry out his threat, which would’ve shocked his wife and daughters I might say.
Would’ve shocked everybody.
Would you like to talk a bit about Grandpa and the moas?
Yes – well my father was a doctor, and interested in natural history particularly. And he became involved with keeping the Napier Museum open after the ‘quake, and he was on the Museum committee. At one stage he was Chairperson or something, of whatever the Museum committee was called. But that was in the thirties, and during the war when people couldn’t be spared for unimportant jobs like looking after the Museum, a lot of the members of the committee would take it in turns to keep the Museum open, and spend the day there. And I think Mr Bestall and my father, Dr Crumpton – they were the ones who kept the Museum going through the war years. He would go in the morning and open it at about ten o’clock, and maybe close it at three or something like that. But he was not a young person by then. And it did keep the museum going.
He was one of the kind of experts that when anything scientific was found they’d ring him up. I can remember one day, having got off school for the purpose, going out to a farm where they’d found a moa skeleton. And it was two rocks really – flat kind of things – had come against each other and left a crack, and we thought that the moa must have got its legs in the crack and so the moa body bones and leg bones had fallen down in the crack. Most of the neck bones and the skull had disintegrated because that would’ve been exposed to the elements above the crack, you see. And so that hadn’t survived, but the rest had. It was quite interesting to see the way it’d happened. I would try and always get out on these you know, extra trips of my father’s to see these things.
Maybe tell about going to get the egg?
Oh yes. Across the road when you get down to the Tuki Tuki, just across the river and to the left of it there were the caves there that you could get into in those days. It wasn’t very pleasant getting into them actually. My experience, ‘cause I went over there riding ponies over there, just doing a bit of exploring into the caves; but there were caves there where moas must’ve been ‘cause there was a moa egg found there. My father was told about it through the Museum, and he went out with a sieve and got all the topsoil off the area round where the egg was broken, and brought it back and spent … oh, the next few months I think … putting it together. It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to go by. I think he probably stuck it together with stamp hinges … put the egg together, because at that time there was no museum in New Zealand that had a moa’s egg in it. And this was certainly a fragmented one, but it was a whole one. All the other ones at that stage were either in American or British or overseas museums; there were none actually in New Zealand museums.
Maybe you’d like to mention how it was discovered?
A man was just … they were getting limestone out from under the caves I suppose, and he just saw the round thing there and touched it with his pick and it just fragmented. And they rang the Museum and let my father know, and he went out and rescued it.
And then he put together the skeleton too, didn’t he?
Actually made up the skeleton …
And my mother used to come home and find the bath might be full of moa bones; or she might come and find the front door steps covered with moa bones drying in the sun after they had their bath – yes. [Chuckles]
And he was sorting them into different species?
Yes. Yes, I can still remember words like dinornis as being the most likely one for the area and so on, because he sent for all the available information he could get on them as soon as these bones started coming into the Museum. And so there’d be books on moas around; and putting them together.
I remember – is it Dr Oliver from the Wellington Museum? Coming up to go hunting …
… for moa bones with Grandpa.
That’s right. Dr Oliver was a friend of my father’s; he was the Museum Curator in Wellington. And I later got to know his son quite well who was at University when I was there at Victoria.
Maybe you’d like to talk about the impressions that your family had on coming to Havelock North, and the social and political life.
I don’t know. There were every possible kind of religion and interest group and so on that you could find, and of course Havelock was ‘cranks’ village’, and we lived by ‘cranks’ corner.’ That was Dr Felkin, and as well as his group there, there were lots of other little groups – the Bris Israelites; can’t think of the various names of them but various religious minority groups.
There was Radiant Living.
Radiant Living came later, that was more commercial as I remember it. But that was Sutcliffe. That wasn’t ‘til about the … I should think about ‘38, something like that … quite late.
And then of course, the Anthroposts …
The Anthroposts were there. We found some … or they found us some relations going back about a hundred years; some relationship between our family and theirs – Crumpton-Smiths. They were Anthroposophists; we got to know them. I think when I was a kid they had the orchard across on … what’s the road called now?
No – the one off Tanner.
No, went the other way. The one you walked along. Joll Road goes this way, and then there’s another up the hill and across the creek.
Up onto like, Iona?
As if you’re going up to Iona, but there’s a road to the left. Anyhow, there were orchards along there; there were the two orchards. I used to go over there quite often. They were distant relatives, and they were a very nice family because looking back on it I was a twelve year old kid and Percy must’ve been a very nice 3rd and 4th Form boy at high school. And I used to be able to join in there, whatever they were doing.
Was he Crumpton-Smith?
Yeah. He was such a pleasant, cheerful person, and the last time I met him he was very serious, quite different – yeah.
You talked about their sister, Nancy.
Nancy was charming.
Who became a Bachus?
Yes. Nancy Bachus she became, yeah. And she was a very sweet girl; cheerful, bright, smiling.
And they were brought up by….
They were brought up by Cousin Ethel, who – I think Cousin Syd’s wife had died and Cousin Ethel, his sister, had come and brought up Percy and Nancy.
Maybe you’d like to tell about some of the activities you did down on the orchard?
Oh, we used to have great fun, and we had bonfires, and cooked. Nancy would make up some … something like a scone mixture or something like that, and so we made dampers in the oven and in the fires.
You’re talking about Nancy Bachus … Nancy Crumpton-Smith?
Yes, Nancy Crumpton-Smith, yeah. She was that kind of a person, you know, she’s always happy.
But she married a very serious man?
Yes. Yes … could never understand it.
Do you want to talk about your experience of the Felkins, and going over there?
Christmas at the Felkins?
Oh! Well I don’t remember it very much, except that we used to be invited over there, and it was very … we had to be very serious. Mrs Felkin would give you the … what do you call it with the incense in it?
Yeah, one of those, and you’d swing that. She’d have a little manger and everything set out very nicely for the Christmas scene. I know Mrs … was it Mrs Joe Williams? One of the ladies who had a house down … I think she is reputed, when she was given the incense holder to hold, instead of swinging it in the conventional way she had no idea – fair enough – “North, south, east, west; here’s luck to everybody.” [Chuckles] That was the story that we heard, anyhow.
But there were people like Miss Atkins who I used to call on. My mother would say, “You mustn’t go and be a nuisance.” I used to visit her, and she was interesting. Miss Matheson was another one – the potter – I used to go and visit her; ‘cause there weren’t any kids in the neighbourhood, that was the trouble.
And Miss Atkins was the craftswoman, wasn’t she?
Yes. And she was just across the road from the end of the drive and straight across that was her place. She told me stories about – I’m trying to remember – it must have been in the twenties; there was this group of young people who dressed in Athenian garb, I think, as it were; and carried staves in their hands, and would leap over a gate using the staff to help them leap over it. I remember the story, and these were people from the 1920s they’re talking about I think, because we went there at the beginning of the 1930s.
Did she tell you as if they were part of the Felkins ..?
I think that’s where they belonged, yes.
And Miss Atkins told you about being on the train in England – a non-corridor train – and there was the gentleman sitting there who mentioned that he had been arrested by the Police being suspected of being Jack the Ripper.
Oh, that’s right. Yeah. Make everyone in the place suitably nervous – mmm.
She told you about going to Russia, was it? Do you remember you had the tapestry …
… she gave you?
Yeah – no, that was in the Middle East, yes.
She went on a train?
I don’t remember that, I’m sorry.
You know how the end of Te Puna was cut off…
… and made into a cottage on …
… what is now Ellison Road?
Ellison’s cottage, yeah.
Was that for the youngest Ellison?
I don’t know. That was done before we got there. I don’t know anything about it.
Maybe you would like to talk about the activities that Grandpa involved you in, and his political life.
Yes, Grandpa was, I might say …
This is your father?
Yes. When the National Party was formed. The previous body having collapsed they formed this new National Party, and my father being by then a suitable conservative – I think he was President of the local National Party branch. He’d got the garden into really looking beautiful and we had a National Party garden party there. My job was to … there was a sheep and you had to guess its weight; Bernard Chambers and I were responsible for looking after the sheep and people guessing its weight. I got quite near it actually by absolute chance.
Why were they having the garden party?
To raise funds for the new National Party; and … so they were taking all the memberships and I joined the National Party. [Laughter] So I’ve taken pleasure on occasion saying: “Speaking as a foundation member of the National Party”… [Chuckles]
That would really surprise people.
Yes. Yes, they don’t always believe it, but I can’t help that. It was true.
Grandpa was also involved with the ESU, the English Speaking Union …
A bit, yeah.
… locally, wasn’t he?
A bit. And Granny.
And the British Music Society.
We had a lot to do with that, and what was really nice was that we got to have a lot of visitors would come and stay the night at Te Puna and go into Hastings and I suppose give a concert and that kind of thing, but would, in the meantime, practise on the piano. So that was pleasant for us. I can remember Nancy was ill one time – she’d I think been bitten by a katipo spider. The swelling wouldn’t go down and she was in a bed on the verandah. I’m trying to think … one of the visiting musicians giving her quite a beautiful concert from the drawing room through across the verandah. Yeah.
And also, you remember later with Sylvia Ashton-Warner ..?
No, I don’t remember.
When there was British Music Society; that’s what it was, wasn’t it?
She was a teacher.
Yes – it was her sitting in the middle of the drawing room floor; this was later.
No, I can’t remember that I’m sorry.
I remember Lily Krause coming to stay the night.
Oh, Lily Krause was a special favourite.
Oh, she was lovely! She arrived, and she took off her tights and threw them off to one side and ran all over the lawn thinking, ‘oh this is lovely on my bare feet.’
Yes. [Chuckles] She was Kathryn’s … I think she might be John’s godmother. Yeah. I never saw that, but I heard about it, yeah.
I wonder if you might mention about how you went on trips to Taupo and what it was like, particularly after that big storm in 1936.
That’s right. We had this …. I think some money came available and my parents had this cottage built at Taupo by the Havelock builder, Achilles Toop. The year that was being built the doctor said I’d been over-working, which brought screams of laughter from my family. But anyhow, he said I needed a break from school. My parents took me to Taupo with them while the cottage was being built. So that was interesting.
Do you remember the big storm of 1936?
Yes. Coming back … it was very stormy in Taupo; I can remember holding a tin of soup and watching to see the wind deflect it when you dropped it. Because it was windy at Taupo too, but we couldn’t get down that road from Taupo to Napier. That was closed for a few days so we couldn’t go home at the usual time. And when we went home, a lot of Baillie bridges and that kind of thing for getting across places where the bridges had gone through.
I know that year the Esk Valley, when we came through it was covered with mud; they said it was six feet deep in some places. And so farmers simply lost their land because it was six feet under silt. I think … one of the good things I remember about Iona, is that one of the pupils there, her parents had a farm that disappeared under the silt; and she was kept on at school for the year because nobody had any money, ‘cause the farm disappeared.
But we came down and it looked – coming through you come out of the Esk Valley and you come to where you see the hills in a ring right round to Cape Kidnappers, don’t you? See that there are hills all the way round … and some of them looked as if a giant had taken his fingers and scraped down the sides, there were such huge gouges down the mountainside from the landslides.
Must’ve been huge!
And what had happened at home at Te Puna?
Oh, a lot of trees – I’ve forgotten how many – sixty trees or something went down. We lost half the ones down the drive and a lot of the ones Grandpa had planted. We always said that he planted so many that he’d … you know, there were plenty there but he was probably disappointed.
I think about twenty of the gum trees in the plantation [had] come down.
Maybe you would like to tell about the hen house.
Oh, the hen house! You saw the pictures of it, didn’t you? The hen house was blown half away by the wind.
Just a couple of things; maybe you’d like to describe the terrain as you left the Esk Valley and went up towards Taupo, what the environment was like then?
Before that I could talk about the top of Tauroa Road. The last house when we got there was Te Puna. There were no houses, the paddock opposite was paddock. The Felkins’ were as far up as it went on that side of the road and we were as far up as it went on our side of the road. There were no houses past there.
And what about where you got your plants from for the garden for Te Puna – how did your father come to get those plants?
Well there were plant places; I don’t remember the names, I might remember an odd plant. The biggest plant place was in Napier in those days, not in Havelock or Hastings.
How did they get oxalis in their garden?
I don’t know that.
I thought that was from Mrs Chambers from up the hill …
… they had oxalis.
They had oxalis, yeah.
And Mrs Chambers’ birthday party – you might like to tell about your mother being invited to that.
That’s right. Old Mrs Chambers – she was a sweetie actually.
So she would be … whose … Mrs Mason Chambers?
Yes, Mrs Mason Chambers. My mother got an invitation to her eighteenth – I think it was her eighteenth – birthday party; and my mother said, “Eighteenth?” She said “Oh, I just turned it round – it seemed better that way.” [Chuckles] Yes, she was quite a character.
Maybe you might like to tell a few things about your mother?
Yes, I don’t know which stories. My mother painted with the … and we used to go up to Keirunga – you’ll remember that. When that opened that was something that she really enjoyed. She had friends she went sketching with, including that nice woman from South Africa – I’ve forgotten her name.
Not Mrs Mayern?
That’d be right.
She lived the other side of the Tuki. [Tuki Tuki River]
That’s right, yes.
One of her young friends. [Chuckle]
Yes, that’s right. Well Nancy … when we went to Hawke’s Bay it was the Depression, and I suppose while I was there they used to have fund-raisers. I know Janet was responsible for … she was responsible for some of the work. Nancy organised a ball for unemployed funds … Copper Trail Ball … and the idea was that they would raise enough money on this copper trail thing to … so if you put a penny down between Napier and Hastings there’d be a copper trail all the way, and that was the number of pennies they aimed to get. I know there was a ball in connection with that, fund-raising, and there was a …. I wasn’t involved in the ball because I was too young for balls, but then they had a gala night. Whether it was at the Showgrounds or where I don’t know, but it was kind of like a mini-show. I think I made … what-d’you-call-it?
Like rosettes, but with flowers, little posies.
Oh, like a shoulder spray?
Yeah. Buttonholes, that’s right. And so I had to make trays of them and sell them at the fair. It was all raising funds. And John von Dadelszen … oh, they had a tent with the entertainment in it … and part of the entertainment was John von Dadelszen whose a very serious face, with a boater singing, [sings] ‘Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside’, [chuckles] and a group of similar law clerks and that kind of thing, I suppose, from Havelock. They were ringing the chorus, but he was singing, and I always remember his great solemnity in doing it.
So unemployment was still quite high when you arrived?
Still very high. It didn’t go until after the Labour Government got in.
And what was your father’s attitude to someone who was unemployed?
He’d give them a job to do, you know. If somebody came and asked him for a day’s work, he’d give them a day’s work – maybe digging or hoeing or some garden work that he wanted done.
It must have been very hard times.
Very bad times, yeah. People used to come to the door selling things a lot in those days just because it was better than staying at home and not doing it, I suppose. You don’t get people coming to the door selling stuff now.
Not out of desperation.
You have them ringing you up instead. [Chuckles]
Well, I think we’d better wrap it up there.
You‘ve done awfully well.
[NB – further information on Cecil Fowler’s life at http://nzchinasociety.org.nz/17617/obituary-for-cecil-fowler-29-june-1921-19-july-2014-memorial-meeting/]
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Interviewers: Anna Lee and Jenny Williams