Peter James Wenley Interview

Good afternoon. It’s the 14th of March 2018 and I am interviewing this morning Peter James Wenley … longstanding name in Hawke’s Bay, especially out at Maraekakaho area … very successful farmer. Peter, good afternoon.

Good afternoon Jim.

Now Peter, I’d like you to give us a history of your family and when they first arrived in Hawke’s Bay, and I’ll just leave it over to you.

Very good, so we’re away, Jim. I’ll perhaps start with my great-grandfather who came from Scotland. He was quite a man of note in that he was Treasurer of the Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh, and he used to sign the bank notes – every bank had their own bank notes in Scotland. So anyway, he didn’t come out to New Zealand, but his son did. His son, who was George – he came to Australia at the age of about twenty, and from Australia he came out to Dunedin in New Zealand and that would be probably about 1880. And eventually he moved to Napier – late eighties – having got married and so on. And he became a very successful businessman in Napier. He lived on Bluff Hill. He built probably the first woolstores at Ahuriri, and that’s what he was – he was a wool broker.

His oldest son was my father, who was born in Napier in 1891. I’ll perhaps go on to my direct family rather than elaborate my grandfather. And my Dad – he went to Heretaunga School which was in Hastings in those days – went to Heretaunga School. During this time his parents had numerous trips to Scotland, and because of this he had long periods of time without Mum and Dad being there. They usually had a six-month trip when they went away. After Heretaunga School my father went to Wanganui Collegiate. He stayed there only briefly because his parents had a very long trip to Scotland and they wanted to take him with them. So he stayed until 1906 at Collegiate, and then he went to Loreto School which is just out of Edinburgh, shifting over with his parents.

Then the Great War came along. He enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery and he spent three years in France in the trenches there, which was pretty harrowing. He actually got gassed a couple of times and had to leave front line, but they dragged him back again [as] soon as he was dried out. However, he survived the war, and it wasn’t until 1920s that he met my mother.

So my dad came back after the war. He was sent up to Cape Runaway as a cadet to learn farming. In the meantime his parents had all moved back to New Zealand, to Napier. And eventually my dad came back to Hawke’s Bay and he bought a farm at Maraetotara where he stayed … having married in the meantime … stayed there for not very long, about three years I think. And he wasn’t happy at Maraetotara, the contour of the land didn’t suit him, didn’t grow much grass. So we’re getting up towards 1930 and they eventually moved to Maraekakaho.

Perhaps I should have mentioned my mother – her name was Beryl Barker … Beryl Mary Barker … and her father was also a farmer. He came out on one of the earlier boats to New Zealand, from Scotland also, and they farmed at Porangahau for some time.

Maraekakaho Station was a huge property, some sixty thousand acres which was really big in those days – perhaps not so much today. And Sir Donald McLean ran it very successfully. He was an MP and lived in Napier, and he was the Minister of Native Affairs, which meant that he did all the negotiating and buying of the land from the Maoris, not only in Hawke’s Bay but all round the North Island. And he saw this block at Maraekakaho which was coming up for sale, so he thought, ‘my gosh – I might nab that for myself’, which he did, and he purchased it from the Maoris.

But eventually Maraekakaho Station was split up. In the early 1900s the Government introduced a pretty brutal land tax with the purpose of getting these really big stations all split up into smaller places. So McLean – meantime he’d carried on at Maraekakaho Station having purchased it about 1860. And he passed on, and his son, Douglas McLean, carried on at Maraekakaho. And it was really Douglas who built all the buildings there which were architect designed – the woolshed particularly which is pretty well known, and the farm cottages and so on. So Douglas farmed it ‘til late twenties. He passed on, and there was a huge auction sale [of] what was left of Maraekakaho Station that hadn’t already been sold off in the early 1900s.

So it was the sale in 1930 when my father first got his block of Maraekakaho. It happened to be the main administrative block on the Station whereby the manager’s house was on it, the biggest woolshed on the property was on it, and there were some very well designed stable buildings there also, where McLean had a Clydesdale stud – and very widely respected too. Anyway, my father got his block there – twelve hundred acres – and he farmed that pretty successfully I think. Had the odd drought which upset him a bit. He carried on there, and he produced a family of three, two boys and a girl. I was the youngest, and the only surviving one … my brother passed away two years ago and my sister about three years ago. So I’m sort of waving the flag at the moment.

And you went to Hereworth School for your schooling and then on to Collegiate, didn’t you?

I did Jim, yes.

And then after that, what did you do when you left school?

I fluffed around a bit, and I worked on several properties in New Zealand to get experience of farming. Spent three years in Gisborne on a Station up there, and after that excursion in Gisborne, went to Australia for eight months with another Kiwi cobber. We worked in a woolshed there in Queensland at Longreach, and then we worked in Victoria on another property. So it was a good way of seeing the country as well as getting a bit of experience.

How did you move between Longreach and Victoria?

Well I had a little Morris Minor car which I put on the ferry. When I say the ferry, the ‘Wanganella’, which took us over to Australia. That would be – trying to recollect what year it was, but it was quite a while ago – that would be 1951. So we tootled around Australia in this little wee car and the roads were shocking then, having successfully knocked the sump plug out of it on one stage, going to Longreach. However, we kept going and the little car kept going all right too.

So, came back to New Zealand and carried on working on other properties, because my brother in the meantime had taken over managing the family farm and I didn’t think it was very wise to spend too long – the two brothers together – so I kept out of it. In the meantime I had a trip to England and the Continent. I was away for just on two years, there again working on farms over there just to see the country.

Vastly different, were they?

Oh, gosh yes – yes, yeah. Quite different.

You didn’t get on horseback and go and round the sheep up at the back of the farm or anything like that?

No. Well the farms are so small there, most of them are only about a hundred acres, so no. Interesting.

You know, as you’re slowing going up you used to be a bit of a playboy in your lifetime, and then you got married … who you got married to, and how many children you had. And then we’ll just carry on from there in your life.

Okay. I’ve given you my father’s sort of credentials, and nothing about my mother, have I?

Peter, what was the name of your farm at Maraekakaho?

Well it was called Maraekakaho Station, still. And then when we split the farm up between my brother and I which we did eventually – we took half each – I called my property Rutherglen – that was where my wife’s father was born in Australia, Rutherglen, and strangely enough my grandfather lived in Rutherglen in Glasgow.

So … yes, Mother went to Woodford in the early years – I think she was at Woodford when the school was in Hastings, and they moved up to Havelock about 1911. And she was the first Head Prefect there, so she proudly told me. And ‘course my sister had to go to Woodford too.

So after I came back from my OE I managed a couple of places in the North Island … properties … just short time. And eventually I came home and my brother and I took half the farm each. We shared the woolshed and most of the farm storage buildings – there were plenty of those because this was the main administrative centre of the whole property. I can ramble on a bit, I don’t want to …

Yes, ramble on, ramble on. We’ll take out what …

Okay, that’s good, Jim.

So I married pretty late in life. I’d been swanning around, travelling the world and seeing as much as I could which is so easy when you’re on your own – it’s quite difficult when you’ve got to pay for two. And I was thirty-seven before I got married, and I married a lass from Wellington. She was a real career girl, she was going to set the world on fire. And her name was Elaine Nankervis. Her father was a businessman in Wellington – he’s an accountant, and he was deputy Mayor for a while, then he pulled out.

No relation at all to the Nankervis from Hawke’s Bay?

No – well they probably are, Jim … there’s no direct connection. It’s a Cornish name, the family all came from Cornwall.

So we were … everyone was amazed in Wellington that this lass got engaged to a farmer … oh gosh, she was after the money, or something. [Chuckle] A country girl – she wasn’t at that stage, but I always say country girls make the best wives. We always had to have pet calves at the back door, and pet lambs, and chooks and pigs – oh … all fed from the house. So anyway, things worked out pretty well between us. We had a very happy life together until she passed away six years ago.

So my education I suppose, should be mentioned too. I had a governess at home initially … my sister and I both did. My brother didn’t have a governess, ‘course he had to face the local fierce headmistress at the local school, Maraekakaho. And my father said “there’s no way Peter’s going to that school, he’s not up to it”. So we had a governess. And then I was sent to Hereworth at quite a young age, as you were, Jim – 1939 I went to Hereworth, [at] the age of eight. I was there for four years and on to Wanganui Collegiate after that where I stayed for five years, as boarders of course. I went to Massey College, did a wool course down there after I left Collegiate and after that I started seeing a bit of the world and travelling and so on.

Yes, it wasn’t ‘til 1967 that I got married. My wife was with Qantas for some years and she finished up as a packing demonstrator. In those days flying was … it was quite unique. There wasn’t much flying done, and people wanted to know how do they pack their suitcases, ‘specially with the weight restrictions – it was very strict in those days. So she used to give demonstrations for packing. And then after that she did bookings for Qantas, and finished up opening a Qantas office in the Hilton Hotel in London. She seemed to cope pretty well there. So it was a big change for her getting married in a quiet little country place.

Yeah – to a quiet farming gentleman, too.

I don’t know about gentleman. [Chuckle] Yes.

Elaine and I had two children. David the eldest was born in 1969 – yes, we got married in ‘67 – I think I might have given you the wrong date. So it was all legal. He now lives in Havelock North, quite a successful accountant, and my daughter, Sally – she arrived two years after David. She went to Woodford like her grandmother did, having gone to the local school for some years. She unfortunately finished up in a wheelchair because she was in a horrific bus crash when the school had a bus outing in the country. However she’s coping quite well, she’s married and lives in Auckland. She’s got one little one. So more family history – I’m trying to think what else I haven’t touched on.

Sport at Hereworth or Wanganui? Were you in the rowing?

No, I was hopeless.

Were you in the cricket XI?

No. Not like you, Jim. I was in the hockey team, that was my big achievement.

And a very good scholar, I’ve been told.

I wouldn’t say that, but we got there, yeah.

Where did you live at that time? Out at Maraekakaho? After you got married and … well, you had the farm?

Yes, yes – yes, indeed. No, we lived in Havelock for about five years … retired off the farm and lived in Havelock for about five years. And then my wife had Parkinsons which she required full care, so we made a move to Mary Doyle. Been here ten years now and she passed away, as I mentioned earlier.

Okay, and your interests now in life – you’re tied up with Probus?

Yeah. And bridge – we play a lot of bridge which I enjoy.

Yes. You’re the Secretary aren’t you, of the Probus Club?

No. I was past Chairman.

Have you ever played bowls?

Yes, I belonged to the Havelock Bowling Club for a while. Yeah, I enjoyed that. I’ve pulled out of that now.

Club captain?

No, just a player.

Peter, I’m sure there’s more to you than what I’ve got at the moment …

Oh, well I got quite involved with Federated Farmers after I left school and I was on the farm, and Chairman of the local branch there. And the Young Farmers Club – I was very involved in that and really enjoyed that, in my single days.

So what did they do in those days?

We used to have a lot of field events like stock judging, debating, ploughing matches and so on. It’s a pretty strong organisation actually.

Did you have those sort of things at Maraekakaho or all around Hawke’s Bay?

All around Hawke’s Bay.

And were you into sheep dog trials?

Yes, I had a go at those without much success.

I’m not a farmer – long-haired or ..?

You’ve got it. [Chuckle]


Short-haired in yard, long haired, and huntaway.

What sort of toothpaste did you use to brush your teeth in the early days?

Probably McLeans, as I do now. [Chuckles]

Did you use Brylcreem?

Oh yes.

That’s the problem now.

It is the problem. [Chuckles] You’re pretty well-preserved up the top there, Jim.

Not bad. Peter, while you were farming you were tied up with Federated Farmers, a bit like David Ritchie – is that the same sort of thing?

Oh, he’s gone right ahead on a national basis.

Oh, right.

And what can you remember about your Hereworth days? Some of the teachers, can you remember them?

Well Donald Gascoigne, was he there with you, Jim?

Yes, he was.

He was my neighbour at Maraekakaho – well, the parents’ neighbour. And he had this flash motor bike. I remember this aerial motor bike he had. So I used to get the odd ride on the back of that I remember.

I often wonder what happened to him.

Oh, he died at a young age – the booze got him. Yeah.

Norm Elder?

Oh, Norman Elder. He used to give us a song when he turned the lights out.

I was speaking with Paul Von Dadelszen the other day up at Hereworth which I’m going to talk to you about in a minute, and he knows all the words. Five verses.

[Chuckle] Yes, I remember more about Collegiate days I think which I enjoyed more than Hereworth. A bit more freedom then when you’re older, and able to get to town now and again – things like that.

Peter, are you a member of the 65 Club at Hereworth?


Okay. We’re trying to put everything together because 2027 is the centenary of Hereworth. Have you got the Wanganui bible?


Well they want to do the same with Hereworth, and try and match it up, and get the Christ’s College one, and Lindisfarne.

When you say match it up … what, have a register for Hereworth?

A register of Hereworth with everything in it – with the full range of Wanganui … of the boys who went to Hereworth from there and Christ’s as well.

Oh yes.

And do you still get an invitation from Hereworth to go to these 65 ..?

I do. They had a function last weekend, didn’t they?

Yes, we did. Only twelve turned up.

Oh, is that right?

Mm. And we had lunch with the boys at Hereworth.

We’ll carry on with Peter James Wenley’s address of his life. Anything else to add?

Well Jim, I didn’t prepare anything for this interview … sort of wondering exactly what you wanted. It seems as though you want more about the person you’re talking to rather than his relatives or history.

Both. Do you think we might come back again in say six months’ time and have appendix number 2.

Appendix – doesn’t sound too good. Well, I don’t know if I can really add a terrific amount to that.

Okay, well we’ll leave it at that, and on behalf of the Knowledge Bank thank you very much for this interview and all the best for the future, and we’re all very thankful for your talk. Thank you.

Thanks Jim.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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