Mary Helen Hortop & Rose Tessie Toms (Anderson Triplets) Interview

Today is the 16th May 2017. I am interviewing the Anderson triplets, now of course Mary Hortop, Elizabeth Palmer and Rose Toms. Can you tell us about the life and times of your family in Hawke’s Bay?

Rose: I will do my best, Frank, there are things about the family that I don’t remember but I will start with Dad’s side of the family – he was born in Dumfries, Scotland, so he was our Scottish heritage from thereon. Dad came to New Zealand because he had a sister here. And he worked here for a while and then he got involved into the Army and went to Passchendaele in World War 1. He was injured – shrapnel – and he was sent by hospital boat to England where he stayed in the hospital for some weeks. And then eventually he met his wife – she was a nurse – and they got married and they came to New Zealand.

Dad first of all went to Taranaki ‘cause his sister was over there, and he just did odd jobs. He worked on the railway as a [an] engine hand and by that time he had two children. The marriage wasn’t successful so he was left with the two children, Mac, who was the only son in the whole family, and his sister, Thistle, she was the only girl that Dad had. And then of course Dad remarried Mum, and her name was Agnes Maud Chappell. The Chappell family were well known in Australia. Although Mum was born here in Masterton, most of the family are actually in Australia, mostly in Adelaide. So our history is a bit of both with Scotland and Australia. We’re not really as long as I thought, New Zealanders – we’ve got quite a few … although Mum was born in New Zealand a lot of our relations are actually in Australia.

You mentioned the name Chappell – the cricketing Chappell?

Mary: Absolutely. [Chuckles] We won’t go into that, Frank. [Chuckles] Ever since the underarm business we say we’re not that Chappell.

Rose: Living there … back in Australia … myself has just been so incredible to know that we do have a lot of Australian family, not that we keep in touch because it’s a very big place. But that was interesting to know our heritage was way back then, you know.

So you’re truly Anzacs, aren’t you?

We are, and I love it, because the Anzacs are very well-thought-of in the world. So yes, I’m proud to be an Anzac.

Mum was a twin and of course the multiple birth was I guess always in the background, but I don’t think anyone suspected that she would have triplets. There was [were] a lot of twins in our family and in our family history, and we’ve got a lovely book with all of our history of the Chappell side, and there were lots and lots of twins. Not all of them survived in those years, because we’re looking back at 1859 when our first relatives came into Australia from England. So there was always that multiple thing in our family, but I must say it was a shock to Dad and to Mum that they had three.

Mum had two brothers. One was Richard and he was killed in World War I, and then Harold was very young and died of pneumonia at the age of ‘bout five, so it was really just her and her sister who were both living in New Zealand, in Hastings, and us in Kahuranaki.

So you mentioned Kahuranaki – you were born when you were at Kahuranaki?

Both: Mm. Yes.

Mary: Dad moved up there after they got married, and I can’t remember exactly the date but they were up at Kahuranaki for several years. And of course at that time we had no electricity and everything had to be done by hand, and there was [were] no fridges and washing machines and stuff like that.

Who owned ..?

JB Campbell. He owned another farm and Dad managed the one out at Kahuranaki, which was an ideal place to bring up a family and we virtually just ran wild. We had no restrictions and … big hill right at the back … and it was a lovely, lovely place to grow up in.

So did you start school before you came to St George’s Road?

Yes. We were actually in a one-teacher school up at Kahuranaki. But through lack of numbers it closed down, so Mum had to take us on correspondence. And when we shifted to St George’s Road, that’s when we went to Parkvale School.

We were young at the time when you were born – we all knew about you.

Rose: Well, Frank – reading the newspaper clippings way back, I’m amazed that so many papers were able to say about our growing up, about our formative years. There was far more than what I thought, so hey! We put Hastings … Hawke’s Bay … on the map. [Chuckles] And all these photos and cuttings from the papers just proved that a lot of people knew about us.

Mary: The other thing Frank just before I forget, is that the people of Hastings in particular, but in Hawke’s Bay – they supported us in so many different ways. Gifts … they raised money through card games and things like that. So we owe a lot to the generosity of the people here.

And that’s one thing we wanted to make very clear in all of our interviews that we do owe a lot to the community.

[Looking at photos etc] Were you all nine-pound babies?

Rose: No, that was over several months by that time. We were approximately … Mary was … I say approximately … four pounds four ounces, Liz was four pounds ten ounces, and I was five pound. So for triplets that’s an amazing weight. And although we went through Karitane by train and stayed there for nearly six months, it helped Mum to recover and it gave us a very, very good start being in a Karitane … coming into disciplined feeding and all that sort of thing. It was a tremendous start for us, and I was reminded on Saturday night, you know, the people who donated for us to go by train. And we have a train driver in our family, so it seems like it’s all coming back. [Chuckles]

It’s interesting, because not many of us have the opportunity of having ready-made sisters of the same age.

Mary: Because we had two older sisters and they did a lot to help feed us. Mum was very strict on time, we were pretty disciplined actually. Mum was a hard-working Mum, but she was a lovely Mum.

And so school was just around the corner which was very convenient for you.

But that road, Howard Street – it was still shingle, so we used to bike to school amongst the pot holes and the rocks and stuff like that.

Who were the nearest neighbours? Were the Millers fairly close to you?

Yeah, they held the property behind us.

Rose: And just up the road, at the beginning of the road, were the Crisp family, and that was a pair of twins as well.

Mary: Anne and June.

Rose: Yeah – Annette. We got to know Judy Paynter – now Judy Bark – ‘cause they lived in St George’s Road South, and we became very good friends and still have, and she was there on Saturday, yeah.

And so you went to primary school – did you play any sports at school?

Mary: Basketball was our favourite … swimming …

Rose: Yeah, we did swimming, but didn’t really play competitive at school.

We had to keep working, and we had a couple of cows down at St George’s Road, and …

Mary: Chooks to feed, which I hated. [Chuckles]

What did your father do when you were in St George’s Road?

Rose: Well he was more or less semi-retired. We had a big enough property, and I can still see the big box thorn hedge that went round the outside, and he spent months chopping it all out. Yeah. No – he was getting quite a bit older now, and he just as I say, retired.

Just going back to the school years, we had George Lowe teach us in Standard 4, and that was a highlight to all of the girls – they all fell in love with him. [Chuckle] Yes, yes.

That would have been quite exciting …

Oh, it was.

… and when he became famous, even more so.

Mary: Yeah … yeah.

Rose: Yeah, that’s right. And of course he’d only just come out of training college, and we just thought he was just [chuckle] the man. [Chuckles]

So then from Parkvale you went on to high school?


That was the …

Together: Co-ed. We only had two years.

Rose: But at that time, Frank, we were at the age and stage that we wanted to be a little bit different and not … just being together. So Mary went into Commercial classes, Lizzie did General, and I did Academic – just so that we wouldn’t all be in the same class. It was when we started to be our own personality.

Mary: And as soon as we left school, we never wore anything alike again. We were asked would we be available to meet the Queen, and that was a big scurry around to go and get something that looked alike for the three of us. But that was the last time. [Chuckles]

Rose: But you know, it’s amazing how many times we do buy things the same, even though we’re in different countries, we sort of end up with the same presents or the same card – it’s a bit scary. [Chuckle]

It’s as close as you can get, isn’t it?

It’s closer than any other relationship and friendship, yeah.

I think it’s marvellous that you know, you can be like that.

Together: Yeah.

Rose: Well Mum being a twin understood us, probably better than anybody else because she had the same affinity. And quite honestly, we’ve just been to say goodbye to my sister … wasn’t easy.

We don’t know what’s happening in someone else’s mind, but triplets and twins do … they can understand.

Mary: You don’t read my mind, do you? [Chuckles]

At high school did you play any sports there, or do anything different?

Not really. We were just sort of an ordinary student there.

Most people only stayed for a couple of years …

Rose: Well, you know …

…‘cause they needed to go and work.

Mary: Yeah, well that’s it – Mum and Dad just didn’t have the money to send us any further with our education and we haven’t suffered from it, you know, we’ve just knuckled down and got jobs.

So then you went out to work?


And if we start with you for a start, Mary – where did you go to work?

I went to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Co-op in their Head Office as a Burrough machine operator, and I had seven years there. Then I went to A A Christie & Sons office where I was in sole charge of the office and I worked with Harold Christie. And then I got cut short in my career because I met Ian.

Now what about you, Rose? When you left school you said you started to train as a nurse?

Rose: Yes, I started nurse aiding at the Royston Hospital because I wasn’t old enough yet to go training, and I really loved that. Also before I started that, I went to Rawling’s Wool Shop as an assistant there – fascinating shop. And then I wanted to go to full nursing so I went down to Palmerston North. And then I too met my husband – he was quite persistent. And at a very young age I got married, at nineteen, and we’ve been married sixty-one years.

Where did you meet Ian?

Mary: At the Fernhill Hotel.

Ian: It was not … Fernhill dance.

Mary: Well, at the dance hall. It was more or less toward the very end of the evening, and his persistent [insistence] that he take me home was enough to start off a relationship, and we’ve been married fifty-eight years.

[Phone rings, recording paused, continues with Ian Hortop]

Ian: Well, my name’s Ian, Mary’s husband. My folks from … on the Hortop side … came from Devon and Cornwall area. And my Dad, Frank Charles his name was, they came over by sailing boat way back in the 1800s somewhere. And Dad’s father was a builder, but actually I never met him because he died in 1928 [1924] and I was born in 1932.

My mother – she was a Paget, so she came down from around Norsewood area, but apparently their family came from round the Scandinavia area in Europe. There’s quite a few Pagets around.

Seeing Dad’s father was a builder, then Dad went and did a trade in Hastings and started his business in 1923 and he started off in Tomoana Road – we lived right next door to the factory. And in 1936 they moved into Caroline Road, and I remember that. And in 1962 we moved out to Havelock North.

You went to Havelock Primary School?

No, well of course we lived in Tomoana Road, and we were more or less next door to Cornwall Park. So Dad actually was a first day pupil at Mahora School.

D’you know, half of Hawke’s Bay went to Mahora school? [Chuckles]

I went there. I terminated that for a long while, because I fell out of a car when we were going across the Takapau plains in 1937. I was about six months out of action. So I left there and went to the Hastings Boys’ High, but I was only there two years because in 1947 they had that polio epidemic, so I mean … right through to March, I mean … there was no school. So I started my apprenticeship with my father, and then I did that.

That was an apprenticeship as a joiner?

Yeah, as a joiner, yeah. It was a five year, or ten thousand hours, in those days.

When I was twenty-one I went overseas for three and a half years. Anyway when I came back, that’s when I met Mary. I actually met her in the Gay Gordons. I remember that, going round in the Gay Gordons …

Mary: Yeah.


I come [came] across this woman and I thought ‘boy! She’s a bit of all right!’ [Chuckles] Yeah, and … so I had another dance with her, I’m not too sure what it was and I asked her for the last waltz of course, in those days. And then I asked her to come home, and I didn’t know ‘til the next morning when I said to Mum “oh, I met a real nice girl.” And I said “boy! She’s right”. And I told Mum “her name’s Mary Anderson”. Mum said “what?! She’s a triplet!” Oh, I just about died on the blinkin’ spot.

Mary: That was just about the end of our relationship then.

Ian: Oh, struth! So the next few times I seen [saw] Mary she had a watch on and she had a little chain there, and every time I wanted to make sure on the left hand that you know, she had this watch on – I wasn’t going to get caught out with the other ones. [Laugh]

Mary: Although Rose was married and – not me, but Liz was still at home.

And so then you eventually started business on your own?

Mary: Took over …

You took over the business …

Took over in 1962. But I must say, this I reckon, is really good because I met Mary on the 8th October; we got married on the 10th October, and we had John, our first son, on the 27th October. But they were on different years. And then of course, twenty-two months later we had Roger, and twenty-two months later we had our daughter, Susan. Our son John – he did his apprenticeship with me, and then later on John took over from me … in 1991. And then he had his son, Jayden, as an apprentice to John. And now John has got his other son, David, working for him. So it’s all in the family.

We’ll leave that at this point, because at some stage I’d like to come back and do your family separately, ‘cause there’s four or five generations in an industry.

Mary: And the Hortops are still in business, where half of them now you don’t even hear – like Poppelwells, Bairds and Bon Marche – all those places now are …

Okay, well Rose – where did you meet your husband?

Rose: I met my husband coming back from a bible class camp out at Waimarama. He took me home and we firmed [formed] a friendship because I knew his sister, she was in my class at school. And his Mum invited us around and I got to know him more then, but I was very keen to do my nursing training and went off to Palmerston but my husband … now is …pursued me. [Chuckle] But we met that way, and obviously we married about a year or so … eighteen months after we were engaged … and the rest is history.

And so children?

Yes, I have six children, three boys and three girls ranging from the age of sixty – Trudy just turned sixty – down to our son, forty-two, so in between.

At some stage I’ll get their names. And grandchildren?

Yes, I have sixteen grandchildren, and also have ten great-grandchildren. [Sound of water running] I set the pace.

Mary: She could have an interview on her own.

And so what did your husband ..?

Rose:  When I first met my husband he was also doing an apprentice as a joiner, and then his father at that time had a butcher’s shop, West End Butchery at Stortford Lodge, and he was working for his dad for quite a few years. And then his dad, through health … that was when Maurice took over the business as a butcher, so it was a business in Maurice’s name for some time. Yeah, then he left that to go into selling – he sold goods in the Hawke’s Bay Farmers – I think it was electrical goods there. And then through another job we were shifted to Auckland in a selling job, so we lived in Auckland for many years, mostly into selling, and selling real estate … Dalton’s, up in Auckland, so that’s been our industry.

And then you moved to Australia …

The company we were with wanted someone to go to Australia to set up the Australian concept, and we were asked to go. And we were only to be there eighteen months, and we’ve been there thirty-six years. [Chuckle] It was a great opening. Most of our children are over there.

We haven’t spoken about your children yet, have we? How many children?

Mary: We’ve got three children. John, the eldest, he as you know, is a [in] joinery. Our son Roger – he’s the second one, and he’s a helicopter pilot for Westpac in Auckland. And Susan, our only daughter, she has been a qualified accountant and she’s just sort of semi-retiring from that and just doing things now at her own time and in her own way.

It always seems strange when we start talking about our children nearly ready to retire …

Rose: I know.

Mary: Well Rose’s eldest daughter’s just turned sixty.

Rose: Yeah.

Mary: You know, they’re catching up on us.

So coming back then to triplets. As you said there was a point in your life where you became individuals. All quins, triplets, twins were always dressed the same – it must have been a cross to bear for a lot of them.

Well it was probably … we were possibly aware how influential that became to us and it wasn’t until we sort of branched out as individuals that we realised that – hey, you know, this business of being triplets aint funny. So we got to the stage where any mention of the word triplets, and we were, you know … [chuckle]

So no twins showed up in any ..?

Both: No, no.

Mary: No, the kids were all blessing … [chuckle]

Now who’s going to tell us about Elizabeth and her part of the family?

Well, she went overseas after she left school on an eighteen months trip, going out to see the world like young kids are doing today, and finally met her husband in Australia, in Sydney. And then they moved to Taranaki over to Stratford where they had bought a supermarket. And through health, her husband passed away, but she had two boys. Her eldest boy is a train driver and he lives in Palmerston, and that’s Stuart, and Mark lives in Perth in Western Australia.

Rose: He’s an accountant.

Both: He’s into banking.

Mary: Yeah. And they’ve been coming backwards and forwards to see Liz. But Liz then married for the second time, Clive Sanders. They were married for a little while and he had a bad heart and unfortunately he died. So now she’s Elizabeth Palmer … this is her third husband. Anyway, so her name now is Elizabeth Palmer. And after she left school Liz as I say, worked at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Meat Company, and then she went down to Wellington and worked in a bank down there as a teller. And then she moved up here many years later, and moved to Napier where she lived for quite a little while.

And now she’s in a retirement home?

Yeah. Yeah.

So it’s always interesting to see how different …

Mary: Yes, very much.

Rose: We’ve got completely different … you know. Although we’ve got a lot of similarities we are very much individual and to get that through to the general public has taken eighty years. [Chuckle]

Do you remember the Lawson quins?


The way they were …

Hounded and ohh …

They were almost destroyed as a family …

Yes, definitely.

… and by the press, cameras …

Oh, it was ridiculous.

Both: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mary: I think this is what Mum tried to avoid.

Rose: Yeah.

Mary: And that’s why she stopped taking us into town, because it just wasn’t on.

And so it’s exciting to come back to Havelock North, Rose?

Rose: Oh, it’s been amazing catching up – not only extended family, cousins, nieces, nephews – many of our children haven’t met each other – but just to come back. I mean this is home base for me, and to share our eightieth birthday together has been an amazing experience.

Mary: Oh, it’s been a highlight, Rose.

Rose: Yeah, it really has … really has. But there is definitely a closer bond because we have other sisters in the family, but the three of us have got such a closeness there.

Are your other sisters still ..?

Mary: No. We’re the last of our family.

[Showing something, several general comments amongst all]

Rose: I think on Saturday night, some of our kids didn’t know much about this history way back.

Mary: And they didn’t know we had gone to Karitane.

Rose: No.

Mary: So it’s been a bit of an education for the extended family. Our greatest wish was, Frank, to be able to share our birthday with the three of us.

Rose: And the lovely thing that happened is that we sort of called it a night about half past seven … eight o’clock, but the younger ones of the family went to one of our nephews’ place, and they played pool, and they … up to about one or two o’clock in the morning, and maybe it was later – just because they enjoyed each other’s company.

Mary: Yeah.

Rose: And I think that was special.

So you had it on site here too which would have been …

Oh, yes.

… really nice.

It was an ideal venue, it was beautiful.

Mary: One of our tutors actually, up at SeniorNet – I belong to the computer SeniorNet up there – and she did all this for me. I didn’t want to buy a whole lot of invites I wanted something you know, special, and she came up with that. [Shows party invitation]

Is there anything else you can think of? Any funny things that happened on the way?

Ian: Tell them about … that lady came up to you the other day when we were out …

Mary: Oh, she said “now which one are you?” And of course anybody who says that to me now, it’s like a red rag to a bull. I said “oh, for goodness’ sake, Elaine – can’t you get past all that? I mean look, we’re eighty years old”. “No”, she said “I’m not going away until I know who you are”. So I said “well, you take your pick, ‘cause I’m just going to move along to somewhere else”. [Chuckle] I’m sorry, but I’m getting very sort of short, and people are still stupid … some.

Rose: No, they’re interested, Mary.

They’re coming at it from a different angle.


Okay, I don’t think there is anything else except to wish you all the best for the next twenty or thirty years. You’re waiting for the Queen’s telegram. [Chuckle]

Rose: I’m away from all this publicity, so it’s really nice ‘cause a lot of my friends have no idea that I’m a triplet, but now that it’s on Facebook and social media – I have no idea what it’s going to be like when I get home.

Mary: You’ll cop it, kid.

You wait ‘til I let everyone know about this Chappell connection.

[Chuckles] We were quite proud of being related to the Chappells until that incident. [Chuckle]

I think it’s got to the point now where it’s really quite funny.

It’s quite hilarious.

Rose: There’s never any malice between Australia and New Zealand – they might have their moments, but … respectful. [Chuckle]

Okay, well I think that probably gives us a fairly good coverage of what’s been and what you’ve done, so thank you very much for that opportunity.

A second interview with Mary’s husband Ian Hortop can be found under Ian Charles Hortop Interview

Original digital file


Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


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