Miller, Olive (Alison) Interview

I’m Frank Cooper. Today is the 29th day of September 2015. I’m interviewing Mrs Alison Miller of King Road, Meeanee. Alison is going to tell us about the life and times of her family since they came to New Zealand until today. So Alison would you like to start off by telling us where your folks came from originally?

My family on my mother’s side, they came from Scotland – from Paisley, their name was Mitchell. The first uncle came in 1840 – he came on the ‘Blenheim’. He was a weaver. I think he came as an assistant [assisted] immigrant, and I think somehow he was allotted a small area in the Porirua area. He had a wife and two little girls, 5 and 3. They all came on the “Blenheim”.

Yes, they came as a family?

Yes. Also on the “Blenheim” was a Mr Brown and his daughter, Helen. In 1850, ten years later, the brother Mitchell came, he was John Mitchell. He married Helen Brown – oh, he joined his brother to help him on the farm because the brother just had the two girls. He married Helen Brown and within a year of his marriage he died. His wife was pregnant and the son was born – they named him John … John Mitchell of course. And that John Mitchell was my grandfather on my mother’s side. That was the Scotland part.

The other side – Eli Allen he arrived in 18 … early 1842. He came from England. He left London anyway, and he sailed. He came as a single man, 20 years old – they all arrived in Wellington – all of these boats. He came on the “Erdium” was the name of the ship. He was – his industry – he was a blacksmith, metal worker.

What he did when he first arrived in Wellington I’m not sure. He met up with a family also by the name of Mitchell but they came from Halifax in England. They were a family of oh, 6 or 8, and he met the daughter and married her. Now … he joined up with her brothers and so – she had about 3 or 4 brothers who survived – they were a bit older that Mitchell family because they’d had 10 children altogether, and 4 had died before they ever left England. But they arrived with 6 and I think there were 4 brothers but one of those died so … there were 3 brothers and they joined the daughter. Her name was Elizabeth, and so Eli Allen and Elizabeth Mitchell – they got married and they – with the 3 brothers – they had a bit of money I think. The father who came from Halifax was a brickmaker. I think he might have had his own business of making bricks. He must have come with a bit of money and bought himself a property in Wellington, and they got a bit of land at the bottom of Aro Street and there was a lot of trees on it so the 3 boys and the brother-in-law, Eli Allen, they chopped down these trees … chopped it into firewood and sold it … made money.

And then I think the partnership broke up and Eli Allen managed to buy land in Tawa Flat and went farming. Now, he had … they had – he married … one of the daughters of that family was my grandmother, Nancy Allen, and she married the John Mitchell who was the posthumous son of John Mitchell who had come from Paisley.

And that’s posthumous family – that posthumous son, John Mitchell, had – he stayed on with his … after he was, I don’t know how old, about 5 or 6, he stayed on living with the grandfather Brown, because the two properties were together – the Browns and the original Mitchells at Porirua, and so he grew up as a young boy on the … between the two farmers. He then inherited the Brown plot and also his uncle’s plot. And he was my grandfather who had married Nancy Allen.   They did very well, they had 6 children, 3 sons, 5 daughters.

And one of those was you?

No, my mother.

Oh your mother, yes.

My mother [mother’s] name was Olive Rosetta Mitchell and she married my Dad in 1912. He was Charles Roland Luke and his family had engineering background. He was an engineer. His father had come out with his family from Cornwall. They’d been engineers in the silver industry in Cornwall. Silver ran out … they came as a complete family, 9 children one of them married. There were 15 other … group arrived.

They must have had enough money because Samuel Luke, the father, bought a boat building business in Evans Bay, Wellington and they developed into an engineering business, built boats and they built the first metal iron hull boat ever built in New Zealand. It was a little coastal boat, went up and down the coast trading … sadly was wrecked about the 1880s. That was called Samuel Luke & Sons. In 1913 it was sold to Jas J Nivens. My father as a young man served his apprentice, then went to England and did some more training, worked originally in Luke Brothers and then Jas J Nivens. He went to Hamilton soon after they were married, were there a few years and then in 1919 he was sent to Palmerston North. At that time I was the second child, second daughter, I was born in December 1919 and I went to the schools there. We did have a little brother born 3 years later who died, then we had another sister who was born in 1925. I had all my schooling in Palmerston North and then I went to Otago University and did the home science course.

Was that a degree course?

Well I started off degree, I completed 2 years.


I was into my third year – got sick – had to go home – went back and finished as a diploma. Then 1941 I came to Hastings as a teacher at the Hastings High School. It was co-ed school then. Quite a small number of girls, I think possibly 200, and I taught science up to 3rd, 4th 5th form, and cooking and sewing and that sort of home science stuff. And I was there until I got married in 1941 I went.

Could we just go back … when you were growing up, what was it like growing up in those days?

In Palmerston North?


Oooh – we were a very quiet family. My father – we were both from strict Methodist families.


There was never even a bottle of beer in our home. I think there was a bottle of brandy in case required.

That would be for medicinal purposes.

And you went to school each day and you went to Church on Sunday and we went home for lunch.

Did you play any sport, did you play basketball or ..?

I was not good at sport. I was quite good at athletics. For a while I was not … didn’t have good health. They had to take me from the public school and put me…

I thought you were going to go and get that bottle of brandy and show me. Here we are …

Oh yes I played tennis.


Oh, of course.


Oh, that’s right.

Palmerston North Girls’ High School Tennis Team.

Yes. I was …

You all look very smart in your white …

Oh yes, they took a lot of washing and ironing.

And your ties …

Yes … ha ha.

Your little socks rolled down on the top of your sandshoes. No,very good.

Oh I think I was only No.8. We were a team of 8.  Yes, I think I only got into it … but I loved tennis and we had a little tennis court at home. We had a big half acre section with a tennis court and I must have driven the neighbours mad banging my tennis racket and ball against the garage door.

Mmm. And so growing up in Palmerston North …

Very, very quiet.

Very quiet. Lots of dances – did you go to dances?

Oh no. I went to one when I was in the 6th form and I was so shy I hardly said boo to a goose. I didn’t enjoy it.

We were all like that though.

Yes. Well I …

So what about picnics? Did the school have picnics or did the family go away to the beach?

Oh, we always went away to the beach for at least 2 or 3 weeks.

Where was that? Where did you go to?

We went to Waikanae, Paraparam, [Paraparaumu] Raumati, the main ones.

Yes, well they were – they were always the favourites weren’t they?

And I had a grandmother and a maiden aunt who looked after – they lived in Hataitai, and we went down there often for holidays. My – we were lucky, it was depression years as you know, but we were a lucky family because my father had full employment and we had a motor car.

Did you play any musical instruments?

Yes, I learnt the piano, I loved the piano.


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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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