Sir John Davies Wilder Ormond & Gladys (Margaret) Margaret Hope – Memories of Wallingford
Recording by Sir John Ormond, son of Gladys (nee Wilder) and John (Jack) Davies Ormond, and grandson of the Honourable John Davies Ormond, known as ‘The Master’.
Much of the life, or the earlier life of my father – he was the youngest of the Honourable J D’s children. He would be twenty years younger than George, [his brother] who had gone by this time to the Mahia to look after the Mahia property.
John Ormond was educated at the Napier High School and finished his education at Christ’s College. On leaving Christ’s College he was sent to London, and there he studied the sale of wool because wool was the number one cheque that came in off these properties, and wool was vitally important. He spent some time studying the wool market and the agents, who became very important to us.
Coming back to New Zealand, he really helped my grandfather with the whole of his business. At that stage my grandfather was at his height. He had property in North Auckland; he had the Mahia property; he had a property in Woodville; [a] property out of Dannevirke, Wallingford, which was his main property that was his base; and at this stage he had Karamu. And they were all going concerns at this particular time. But they were not developed – they were to be for development. And it was a challenge to a young man no doubt, and he chose Wallingford – to go and live in Wallingford and develop Wallingford.
So let me deal with Wallingford. Wallingford at that stage was forty thousand acres. He would have had to walk or ride to it. And then of course as tracks became roads – you came in the traps and the buggy, the cart horse, the bullocks and so forth for transport. And following the clay roads, into the roads which were made of papa – burnt papa – he had the two-cylinder car, and so the development took place.
Wallingford was a good property, well-watered with streams; covered in mostly manuka … kanuka. Kanuka is a good manuka tree. The other hills – the lower, not such good hills were the manuka – lighter manuka – and the back of the property was native grass and fern. Now this all had to be broken in, and it was in the process of being broken in when he became the manager for his father. And it must be remembered that at that particular stage, Wallingford was forty thousand acres – he had to work with two bullock teams, three teams of draught horses … that’s the Clydesdale horses … and the ordinary dray which was a one horse dray … sometimes two horses in the lead. They were the vehicles that were there for development of the country. It took longer to get from A to B and the life was slower, naturally. Scrub cutting was one of the main ventures that one had to go in for. That took time. That was done by the slasher, and the axe cut and the staw [saw] cut the heavier timber off the flats which were bush. Now that was his early sort of … must have been the outlook that he farmed when he took Wallingford over.
During this period – we go up to about 1912 … or 1910, 1912 and the Seddon government – and my father was a friend of Seddon’s – I don’t think he was in his Party but he was a friend of Seddons, and Seddon decided that he wanted the big landowners to sell blocks of land for land settlement, and our family were the first I think, of the bigger landowners in the country to hand over or sell to the government ten thousand acres of the back country. That was approximately about 1912.
To run a property of this size he had this supply camp … three teams of Clydesdale horses and the extra horses, so there were three men there, plus a young man who was a roustabout, plus a cook which [who] did the cooking. That was quite something. I remember well, camp was in amongst the scrub, mostly tin over the top and canvas down the sides. But that’s how people lived, and they did the cultivation work, mainly on the flat country for a start.
Now besides that he had what he called the outstation. The outstation was called Mangawhero. That had a head shepherd where he lived – it was half-way out to the back boundary. It had the head shepherd there; it had a married couple; he’d had a rabbiter and he had a young shepherd. They were well off the main track – to get down to the road, they would have to ride approximately five or six miles, perhaps more, until the roads came up a bit. Well a lot of work entailed in that.
But besides that list, he looked after his father’s properties. The main one that he had to take an interest in and help with was Karamu. Karamu was the property in Hastings – the Hastings flats – in those days there were big bogs, they had to be drained and so forth. Now at Karamu, not only did he have a short horn cattle stud; he had a Clydesdale stud – one of the best Clydesdale studs in the Southern Hemisphere. With those horses he won at the Royal Show in Christchurch in … oh, in about 1910 I would say … 1912. He also at that particular time after having sold land to the government, he bought with Eddie Watt, land in Australia in the Darling Downs. He sent his Clydesdale horses to Australia and he won at the Royal [Show]. I’ve got a photo of it – beautiful horses. So there we are – we have a Karamu Stud really. And we talk about the shorthorn cattle; we could talk about the Clydesdale horses; and then we [could] talk about the thoroughbred horses. He had a very good thoroughbred stud, Karamu, and that’s where he started with his race horses.
Besides this at Karamu he had two sheep studs. One was the Lincoln and the other was the English Leicester. The wool off those two breeds of sheep was shown at the Panama Canal in about 1914, and won first prize. I’ve still got the certificates of it actually … the photos. So my father really walked into a big show, big managerial … supervision … whatever you like to call it.
And so – not that he wasn’t interested in politics – the family were all politics because of their father. His work was mainly administration of his father’s affairs, and as a businessman, so he became a businessman. When he settled down and married in the early part of the century in about 1900 … 1902 actually, he settled at Wallingford and there he took a great interest in the local affairs. First of all he had to take an interest in the village of Wallingford. Now the village in Wallingford was a place where he’d do his labour for the properties – for the big property. In order words, put it this way: there were five cottages in the Wallingford village. Three of them would belong to the station. The others in the village were the blacksmith’s shop and the blacksmith’s cottage, which catered for people within fifteen to twenty miles in radius. There was the hotel, and then there was a cottage called Ginty’s Cottage, on the corner of what was known then as the Bush road. This meant there was quite a population of people which he had to organise. He had to organise the schooling, because it was before organisation and so forth – he also in the early part had to organise the schooling, and they built a school which still stands.
All this became a very big bus[iness]. In my time, most of his time was spent at Wallingford. Wallingford was the place he was to develop, which he did very successfully. And right up ’til his father died he was the … you could say, the administrator of his father’s business. He had a man called Archibald. Archibald was a supervisor of the animals, but he was under my father. My grandfather had a trainer called Stuart Waddell also – my father took control and ran that for him. So this was a busy world as far as he was concerned.
Now coming back to his own personal life with his children. He had twelve children. He married this girl from the South Island. He met this girl at a race meeting in about 1900-1901. That race meeting he had taken his father’s horses with Stuart Waddell, the trainer, down to Christchurch. He travelled extensively with his horses – I’ve got a record here in 1896 where he took ‘Solitude’ and a horse called ‘Forty Winks’ to the Winter meeting in Wellington and so forth. It was all … [must’ve] been time consuming and big business, and good horses – horses that won a lot of races for them.
However, he married this girl – a Wilder – in about 1900-1901, maybe 1902, I’m not quite sure – and settled down at Wallingford. And from Wallingford he ran his business. For a long time he ran his father’s business, for his father died in about 1918. He took part in all local things. He was one of the early members of Patangata County. That entailed a lot of work. The engineer, old Sidwell, lived at Porangahau, and Sidwell would come along every week in his trap, and he would pull up the other side, which they called the lake. My father would ride across the water and meet Sidwell at say nine o’clock, or eight o’clock in the morning, and they would go over the roads that’d been causing the trouble, ‘specially in the winter with the slips and so forth, and the development of other roads which the farmers … like the Wilder settlement had to be settled, and had to be roaded. So it became a business, a big business.
The first development which he had to handle was the sale of the ten thousand acres at the back of Mangawhero, in behind … going over towards Ormondville. That block had to be handled and eventually settled. The next settlement he was involved in was a settlement to take place after the first World War. Jack Wilder, the youngest of the Wilders, who had worked for him was parcelled – quite a considerable acreage was passed over – put in Jack’s name. And he unfortunately got killed at Gallipoli. That land was then sold to the government. The government cut it up themselves and they sold that as a settlement, and that was called the Wilder settlement. The money from the Wilder settlement was then distributed to the other brothers of the Wilder family, and so they started farming, [on] their own accord, two of them on the Wanstead side of Wallingford, and the eldest one on the Elsthorpe property, near a place called Atua.
So that really went right on until 1918-1920 … ’til after the War. But the animals at Wallingford alone – he was sort of … in the early part of the century … that he was responsible for would be approximately forty-five thousand sheep; a lot of cattle – fifteen hundred head of cattle; a lot of horses – horses for people to ride and so forth, and draught horses. It was a big business.
Their communication was difficult and for a start, they had to build their own telephone lines. Now Wallingford had the first Post Office in the district … the first Post Office between Waipukurau and the sea. The first one. And a woman called Mrs Sims – the Sims family – used to live in a cottage that flooded about twice in the year, down by the river. She had a little house which she used to sit in all day and looked after the telephone. And Sims himself was the roadman. Now the roadman was an important factor. We had roadmen just about … I was going to say every ten miles … yes, that would be about right. Roadmen and roadmen’s cottages. The roadman with his shovel and his barrow – he used to keep the roads open. And in those early days, the slips covering the roads was a real headache … something that was a real problem – and of course the rivers – all those became the responsibility of the landowners.
I’m now going to talk about another period in his life which may be used – whatever Brian Tallboys thinks is best – when it’s used … if it’s not used here it will be used in the Ormond book at some other future time.
He was as a young man a good athlete, a good rugby player, coxed the four at the Napier High School and [?] College. He was a top rider. He used to ride his father’s horses. It’s recorded that he rode ‘Forty Winks’ in 1896 in Wellington. ‘Forty Winks’ was a beautiful horse I believe; he hunted him in latter years. He was a top polo player – this is as a young man. And travelled extensively, mainly for his father on his father’s business.
After he got married, he settled down and together they reared this family of twelve. The interesting thing is that the first child was my sister Margaret, who was born on the 8th of September 1904. I was born myself on the 8th of September 1905; my brother Ted on the 29th September 1906, and so on. So anyway he had twelve children, six girls and six boys. His friends used to say, “How do you look after them, Jack?”. And he used to say “They look after themselves”. But that was a big … you know, being away out in the country, no real roads for a start expect the clay roads. I can remember myself them metalling the roads in 1910, with the papa – burnt papa. So for many years their excursions back to the towns were very limited – for instance, once a year mother would be taken to stay with his people in Napier – once a year. And so we were brought up – or he brought us up in the country. Our main occupation as boys were helping on the farm and riding horses – first of all ponies, and then horses. It was the natural thing to do. On a Sunday morning, the younger children were taught to ride horses. Everybody had to ride a horse, otherwise you couldn’t get anywhere … whether they liked it or they didn’t like it, people had to ride horses.
He was [a] keen stockman … he was [a] very good stockman. Drafted all his cattle – well in those days pretty well all the stock were handled by the stock owner. He also … after my grandfather died in 1918, he took over some of the stud. Stock was divided up, and he and Uncle Frank … my Uncle Frank … they raced my father very successfully. He was a very successful owner. He had a mare called ‘Shirley’ who won the Stewards’; he had a horse called ‘Anomaly’ who dead-heated with, I think ‘The Hawk’ or ‘Grammy’ – one of them, in Christchurch over seven furlongs. He won the Northern Hurdles with ‘King’s Jests’ in about the early thirties, and so forth.
He gave up his racing in the early thirties after winning the Northern Hurdles when times got very difficult. That was the first real slump that I remember … 1930s. People talk of a slump these days – well, those days the slump was terrible. Nothing to … well, what you did have to sell was very difficult. So he – I remember him saying so – “You can’t bring up a family on racehorses”, so the horses went. It wasn’t that his sport went – he was a very keen tennis player, and he brought the children up to play as many games as was possible. We were taken to the local dances in the wool sheds where he himself would play the piano and sing songs. He was a good performer – I can remember him well – very good performer. He was very strict in a way with his family but he never used the birch … he never thought of the birch. On Sunday night he always sang to the children – always. That was custom, and he was very keen that the children should be able to play the piano.
So between he and Mother, they were brought up as country children. Didn’t like going to school – how could you like going to school when you’d never been away? Your life was looked after, you were used in the shearing sheds; you were used on the farm; the girls were taught to sew; taught to cook and so forth. This was a community life. Those days the land provided a lot of fun and a lot of experience for a lot of people. That being used as a base for New Zealand started, and it was a very good base.
The other period of his life which I should record is his influence on his own family. Now his own family consisted of George … Michael George, the eldest of the family, who lived at the Mahia [Peninsula]. He went to the Mahia as a young man by boat – there was no other way of going to the Mahia. He married the Maori princess, Kiwikiwi [Maraea Kiwiwharekete] up there, and very successful – and bred a very successful family. One of that family, Jack Ormond (known as Jack Omana) was the representative of the Maoris on the East Coast for many years. He bred all good footballers, all good athletes, so it was a good family.
Now the other eldest one of the family on the girl’s side was my Aunt Ada. She married Hamish Wilson from Bulls, another pioneer of the Rangitikei country – in fact the pioneer of the Rangitikei country. And they also produced a politician, shall we call him? Member of Parliament – that was Ormond Wilson. So my grandfather had two of his family produce two members of Parliament.
Jack, which [who] was my father, produced me, and perhaps I was the rebel of the outfit. I’m not sure what they’d like to call me – I never got into Parliament, but I got on to these other [?boards?].
But that was the family that … he was interested in the whole of the family. My father looked after his mother, Hannah … very much after my grandfather, but always he looked after Hannah and my Aunt Fanny, who in turn looked after his mother, and Uncle Frank who in turn looked after a lot of things to do with the sheep stations. A lot do with the sheep stations. They were a happy family. They lived at Tintagel in Napier, and my father religiously would visit them, I would say every three months, or at any time when there was a problem to be settled. That was his life right through the piece, and that made it a very successful life I think, and made my grandfather’s people, after my grandfather died, a happy lot.
My father I’m going to talk about a little more. He and my mother led a very happy and successful life and brought up a very large family. Every year in March he took his holiday and that holiday was to go to Taupo. He had a small cottage in Taupo about three blocks up from the Post Office for many years. He would leave home at five in the morning and he would get to Taupo sometime ’bout eight o’clock or nine o’clock at night – sometimes later. I only once did the trip with him up to Taupo for fishing – I wasn’t a great enthusiast for fishing. My brother-in-law Tom Hope was the enthusiast, and looked after them so well up there. But he loved his fishing, and he would spend two to three weeks fly fishing in the rivers and off the shore with a big rod … big twelve foot rod – that was the fashion in those days. And the fish they would pull out were big fish. Talk about a six … five or six pound fish [chuckle] – eight or nine pound fish. I’ve got a photo of, I think a ten or twelve pound fish. They were fantastic fish. But he was a good fisherman. And that really was his life. Although he had stopped racing, he was still interested in horses and very keen that we should be interested in horses, which we were. And he had the odd horse – he raced the odd one, but he kept breeding and bred … still bred some quite good horses with Uncle Frank.
He also travelled. He educated his children well, and he always went to his children’s … he took them to school or to college and he brought them back – pretty well that was the system. He also used to enjoy their games, and he would follow them, the ones that played better games than the others, or sometimes not so good. He would go to their sports meetings and so forth, and he found … he got a lot of pleasure out of his family.
Mother – I haven’t mentioned much about Mother, but Mother was the same. Mother was a quieter woman. She was a woman who took part in all sorts of women’s organisations in the Waipukurau area, and Porangahau area, because after all they were the pillars of the church in their particular area, of their time. She was an original one of the Womens’ Institutes organisers. She was a top organiser of the Red Cross.
Recording continues with Margaret Hope (nee Ormond)
As I am the oldest of the family, my brother has asked me if I will talk a little bit about my mother and explain the importance in their lives of them being together.
Dad was about thirty when he went down to Christchurch for the National with my grandfather’s horses, and that was when he met Mother. She was a very outstanding girl – very pretty, plenty of admirers, and very friendly and enjoyed life enormously. They were a fairly hard up family, so she made most of her own clothes but she was pretty good at that, and she was already to enjoy anything. She kept a diary which was carefully written on the top: ‘Only to be Written when I Feel Like It’.
Well, she wrote … she felt a lot about the ball, the best ball she had ever been to. The flowers were beautiful, the music was perfect, and she met some very nice new men. One particularly nice one was Jack Ormond from the North Island. I don’t think he ever looked back from his moment of meeting her. He was certainly very, very devoted, and I think she perhaps danced rather more with him than the chaperones would have approved – or certainly more than the other young men would’ve. However he made quite an impact, so that when he came down again – again in November week – he really made great advances, and that was when he asked her to marry him. At first her parents were rather horrified. She seemed far too young; they knew nothing about this young man. He had to race round Christchurch finding people who knew that he was respectable; that his family were very nice people; that he would be in position to look after a wife properly. So they were allowed to be engaged, much to the joy of Grandfather Ormond, who was enchanted with her photos and when he met her.
Their marriage was very important because they were so completely suited to each other. Mother played a very full part in his life. They discussed everything, always, whether it was the station; the people that they met; the children; or their plans for everything – it was always very much more modern in their approach than any of their contemporaries. Very few men in those days included their wives so much in their own lives. She was a very intelligent woman and very interested in everything. He was a very advanced man too, in that he felt that she had every right to discuss all their affairs; all their money affairs; what they did with their money. There was no ‘hush-hush’, which was very usual in that generation.
She did have a great deal to do with running the station where there were so many married couples … so many people, perhaps with small children, that needed a certain amount of help. There were other people in the neighbourhood – somebody might be ill. She would be immediately called in because she was as I say, she was a very kind, sympathetic person. She was very good with children. She had a Sunday school which she started when we were very little. She taught all of us when we were very small. I was reading fluently I’m told, by the age of six, and that was entirely due to her teaching.
She and my father shared all the responsibility for children, and we were never allowed to play off one parent against the other, which does happen sometimes in families. Any big plans that were made – it was no use going to Dad and saying “may we go to the beach for a picnic?” without him saying, “I’ll talk to your mother”. And the same applied if we went to mother and said we’d like to do something, she’d say, “Oh, well I’ll talk to Dad about it”. It meant a very secure, safe background.
One of my daughters said to me … Frances … “You know, I never heard Grandie”, as the children called him, “raise his voice. He always spoke so quietly”. And one of the shepherds once said to me when I was older, “You know, JD never shouted at you in the yards, and if he had to tick you off, he didn’t do it in front of the other men”. And that was pretty nice, and again, I think probably rather more sensitive and thoughtful than a great many people in that age group.
Mother had great outside interests in that she was one of the first people to realise that the Country Women’s Institute was a most valuable idea, and she furthered it as much as she possibly could. Perhaps her greatest interest was in Red Cross, and that of course began in the first World War, when her brothers were away fighting, and there was so much work done in New Zealand. The news always seemed so slow coming in but the interest was very deep, and there were so many New Zealand men away. Her brother John was killed in Gallipoli, and that of course was a very, very deep … a deep, lasting sorrow to them all, because he was a particularly charming, outstanding young man. We all thought he was quite wonderful. But I think that work was her continued interest all her life. When I was in the Red Cross too, she was outstanding in her wide interests, and she took a very strong part in New Zealand affairs. Although she was never on the National Executive. she was considered an outstanding figure. She was awarded the MBE for her work in local affairs. And always, whatever she did, she was supported by Dad.
Her work at the time of the Napier earthquake when they both worked all day, working in Waipukurau with a sort of vast arrangement of people who were fed on the way through; where trains were looked after … because they started trains that went through from Otane and they all needed … they needed help. They needed food and that was done by both of them. And I have a feeling that all the time, they were an example to other people, and certainly to all the young marrieds, because theirs was a shining example of how two people could be so completely compatible, and help each other so whole hearted[ly]. I think it influenced their children very much indeed. There were twelve of us, so you can imagine that if hadn’t been divided interest, Nannie could never have coped with all that.
But always – however busy Dad was, he always had time to divert a good deal of the early evening to us. The big ones … this was when we began to be a little bit older … the big ones would be read to … he would read to us in the hall – ‘Chums’, and all sort of exciting books, while Mother read to the very little ones in the drawing room. Again, I don’t think there were many fathers among my contemporaries who did that, or were so involved with their wives in the upbringing of the children and in their daily lives together. I think that really explains a great deal of why my father filled such a wonderful corner in that part of the world.
[Change in recording quality] It’s very difficult to pinpoint, but I think my first memory must have been Mother and Dad coming home from England. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I remember vividly being in the hall with the feeling of a lot of people, all very excited, and Nannie holding John’s hand and someone, I think it must have been Granny Wilder, holding Teddy, who was a baby. That pinpoints the time for me because I do know that Mother and Dad went to England when Ted was a very small baby and he was still a babe in arms when they came back. I remember a voice saying, “Here they are!” And the hall door was open and the light shining out of it, shone onto the rump of a chestnut horse. And that is all I remember. I can imagine perfectly well what happened after that, but I can just only can see that patch of light on that chestnut behind of that horse, because of course buggies were our way of conveyance in those days. Horses were very important to us, so I suppose naturally I noticed a horse. The buggy would have brought Mother and Dad from the station. They may have come in the train as far as Waipukurau, but they would have come on definitely, in a buggy.
I can remember very clearly, certain things. For instance, the fact that I was sleeping in Dad’s dressing room. It must have been after they came back because they were away for quite a long time, and the thing I remember about that was that in the morning I would sit in my half-cot. You know the kind of cot that has protection half way down the side so that you’re not going to fall out in the middle of the night? And he would be shaving early, before we got up, because always, he went out and saw the men about seven o’clock if they weren’t mustering or doing something, when he would be out very early. But while he shaved, he talked and we would just would … I don’t quite know how much we talked, but I think I was a bit of chatterbox, so I expect I had plenty to say. And anyway it was lovely watching him shave when he dressed himself in his working clothes. And I can see Dad now – he always wore riding britches and gaiters, because of course he would be riding all day and every day. He was a very good looking man, I must say.
The other thing that I remember very vividly about that sort of stage in our lives was watching them changing for dinner, ’cause every night Dad changed into a dinner jacket, and if he was a bit scruffy, he’d shave again – he was very fussy. I would sit on the floor by Mother’s dressing table, which was a most attractive dressing table with candles. I was interrupted there – just going to tell you about how very fascinating it was to watch Mother dressed in a very pretty evening – they always wore attractive sort of gowns in the evening – rather fluffy and lacy, and we watch her with awe … how she put in her earrings and rings on her fingers … and then she and Dad had dinner in state, both looking very glamorous.
We had a very happy time always in the evening because after we had had our bathes, we would go down into the drawing room and Mother or Dad would read to us – nursery rhymes, Beatrix Potter – all those kind of books that we loved. And Dad occasionally would sing. He had a very good voice, and he was very happy vamping at the piano for his own accompaniments. Seriously of course, if there were visitors there Mother would play for him to sing … really rather more highbrow ones than the ones we liked. Our favourite one was ‘Yankee Doodle Went To Town’, and he would sing that endlessly for us. Cause of course it was something rather different and great fun. And he read aloud very well – not perhaps quite as good as Mother did, but very well.
And those evenings … somehow I suppose I’m thinking in the winter more, because we always seemed to be sitting by the fire when we were being read to – sitting on the floor in rather a warm, fluffy rug, and that was a very cosy time. We would have our tea and then our baths, and then we would go along to the hall and the drawing room – it must have been winter because there was a thick velvet curtain hanging over the door which Nannie would move – and then the door opened with the most exciting sort of groan. I think old doors mostly did. And then we would go in, and we would have about an hour of us being entertained. And it was a very, very happy … happy occasion which we always expected and looked forward to. I think we were extraordinarily lucky children because our parents really enjoyed doing the things with us. For instance, one of the things that Dad did … oh, from when we were quite little … the idea of starting us off with our training of riding was old ‘Greenie’, a rather decrepit looking old chestnut. And ‘Greenie’ was employed pulling the lawnmower. The Wallingford lawns were very large and needed a lot of looking after, and ‘Greenie’ pulled this very big lawnmower. And the exciting thing as far as we were concerned was that ‘Greenie’ had the most beautiful leather boots put on so that his feet … his hoofs [hooves] didn’t dig in to the sacred lawn. And an old sheepskin was put on ‘Greenie’s’ back, and we would be lead round and round the lawn so that we got used to the idea that horses were there to be ridden on.
I think they did buy a motor car fairly soon after they came back from England, judging by the photo I’ve seen of John and me sitting in the front seat. One of those high funny looking cars, but it didn’t mean a thing in our lives – we weren’t really interested. In the same way as far as we were concerned, lamps and candles – they were part of our lives. There was no wireless. There was no gramophone. No, it was all very simple, and yet it was so happy and extremely comfortable.
We lived very simply I think. We had breakfast at half past seven which was porridge – plenty of porridge, brown sugar, and bread and butter. And on Sunday we had sausages. Then we would go out if it was fine. We were dressed up in our sacking aprons and we went out towards what we called our ‘play place’. And the play place was across the lawn over what used to be in those days, the tennis court … straight out from the present dining room to quite a collection of smallish trees, which have long since been cut down. But they were the most wonderful corner to make a house in. And we were allowed to make as many mud pies as we liked. There was a very convenient tap there, we were provided with old pots and pans and a kettle, and we played cooking, and everything in the world. The boys … by then, I suppose this was when we were about six that I’m remembering really …. and John and Ted were obviously mustering sheep all the time, riding on their horses, which were those the very suitable flax sticks, while I was left at home to cook the dinner, and the most delicious looking mess made with mud pies, and arranged on wooden … bits of wood … were ready for them when they came back. Those kind of things were very important in our lives. And I of course had my dolls – they came out for the morning too.
At about eleven o’clock we would be called in to go and … not necessarily sleep but lie in our beds. Our dinner in the middle of the day was again very suitable for children. I don’t remember it very much. I think we were usually fairly hungry. And on our birthdays we always chose our favourite pudding. I think mine was Queen’s Pudding – I know John’s was hard boiled rice, and Ted’s was baked custard – and those where the highlight of your birthday lunch. In the afternoon we would go out and play at the end of the drive for choice. The oak plantation was fairly young but it was there, and there was the big trees all along the outside edge of it, on the roadside. It had beautiful great big enormous branches which turned into horses, because I think probably Jimmy or somebody, had cut a certain amount of branches to make them suitable for riding. And you sat on your branch and you bounced up and down.
A great thrill at that time was that the coach came past. It stopped to leave the mail, and there might be passengers sitting in the … a passenger, usually a man … sitting in the front seat by the driver. And the horses looked very fine, and they jingled beautifully as they came down the cutting. That coach really was a tremendous thrill to us. One of the sad things about it of course was that it was a bit top heavy I suppose, because occasionally we would hear … horrified – horrified! “The coach has blown over on the Porangahau Road” … at the top of the old road, which you can see in a very different today. But it was fairly narrow and very high, and if the wind was blowing, it really was quite dangerous. And I remember hearing once, we were in the nursery and Nannie came in and said, “Isn’t it dreadful – the coach has blown over, and Porangahau has no sugar”. It was being delivered by the coach and it had all gone down the hill. We were quite lucky because we had plenty of sugar at Wallingford, so we didn’t worry about those poor people in Porangahau quite as much as we might’ve.
I think perhaps one’s memory is very simple in lots of ways, but very cosy. The background of our lives was Mother and Dad, Nannie, Mr Munro who was the head shepherd and had been at Wallingford since Dad was a young man, about eighteen I think, that he went there. And he and Dad had worked together forever really. And Mr Munro lived out at Mangawhero at the outstation, but he did come into Wallingford a lot and we thought he was rather a magnificent man. He had a very beautiful reddy-brown beard. He was very Scotch, and very kind to us. So he was a very important person. There was Mr and Mrs Cameron. Mr Cameron was … he was the coachman – when Dad didn’t want to, he drove the buggy or the gig or something, whatever the vehicle was that we had in those days. Mrs Cameron was the cook, and I always remember years later, Mother telling me that Mrs Cameron was the most wonderful woman.
John was born rather before he was expected – no time to go to Waipukurau. And Doctor Godfrey came out, was looking after Mother with the help of Mrs Sims who was a trained – well, had been a midwife. And John was … well, Mother said that to her horror she heard the doctor say, “Well we must save Mrs Ormond, but I think the baby’s dead”. John was cast on the sofa, certainly … I suppose wrapped up in a towel, and Mrs Cameron removed him tenderly and put in the kitchen sink … nice warm water. John being tough as old boots, revived, and the next thing was happy yells from the kitchen. So of course naturally Mother never failed to be grateful to Mrs Cameron. They were Cornish and went back to Cornwall I suppose before I was about ten, or nine, but in plenty of time before that, Mr Cameron had made me the most beautiful doll’s house, which of course was the highlight of my nursery.
There is so much I keep remembering that really all made up for exciting happy things. They were reasonably strict with us in that there were certain things we had to do. We had to be polite; we had to do what we were told without arguing – we mostly were good about that. I seem to remember a few arguments with … Dudley was rather an obstinate, very small boy, but on the whole I think we were obedient children. The one thing we were not allowed to do was quarrel. It was no use dreaming of saying “oh well – he hit me first”. Mother simply said, “quarrelling is very horrid, and anybody who wants to quarrel may go outside – I don’t want to see them”. And it was so boring to be sent outside [chuckle] – you didn’t keep on with your quarrel, you quickly got over what you were doing and went on playing. She had a very firm theory, which I agree with now that I’ve learnt with other children … my own and my grandchildren … that quarrelling is a habit, and if people are allowed to quarrel and there’s a long discussion over quarrels, they will always go on quarrelling. It was a very strong thing in her mind that quarrelling became the habit, and it was ingrained in small children – either you quarrelled or you were simply not allowed to quarrel and be disagreeable to each other. I think it was a most important part of our education.
As we got more accustomed to where we’d be riding, there were small ponies. Mr Hunter had very beautiful little Shetland ponies, but they were rather treacherous. He gave one for me called ‘Tiny’. She was a very beautiful pony – she won prize after prize at the show, not with me riding her but with one of the Ginty boys, who was small and light but a very good horseman, and then later on of course John and Ted did. But she was not really a good pony for a nervous person because she played up a lot, and she was terrified. I think she must have been caught up in wire at some stage because she only had to look at a piece of wire and she really ran away, and hated it. And John had a very attractive chestnut – very quiet horse that he adored. I can’t remember Ted’s special one, but we had our ponies and they were a great joy to us. That was by the time we were six and seven, that sort of age.
We were also introduced to the glorious thing of eeling. That was great fun and Dad would take us and we would spend a happy hour down … just towards the late afternoon … down by the river, and of course it was full of eels. The only thing I was always terrified of was perhaps getting one in my hair. I do remember that with rather … apprehension … wasn’t at all pleased with that.
Wallingford in those days – there was the station, and then further up the road where the little church is now, was the school. Mother used to go up there regularly because she taught the girls sewing, because very often there was a man – perhaps teacher – would not be capable of doing that sort of thing.
Mother was very … she was really a very busy person. She used to make my clothes – not so much the boys, but my clothes – and knitted for all of us beautifully, then of course looked after whichever the baby was. To begin with we were three big ones, John, Ted and me, then there was a gap, and then there was Sheila, Kit and Jacqueline and they were the three little ones. It was really rather exciting because we big ones were supposed to look after the little ones. I mean when I was five Sheila was born, and I was very responsible for her. Made me feel terribly grand.
Well the three big ones would go for walks or rides, and we would go down past the Post Office where Mrs Sims lived, and that was on your left as you went down the other side of the cutting. There was an orchard and a garden and her house and then opposite her house was the Post Office. Mrs Sims had two very, very beautiful daughters – they always looked very elegant coming to church. The only thing that used to worry them a little was that Ted – until it was discovered – had an evil habit of crawling on hands and knees and pinching their legs under the seat, until Dad found out. And after that Ted sat very firmly by Dad. There was no more crawling around under the seat – much better. Much better for the Sims’ girls.
Then just past the Post Office before you came to the bridge there was a big old two-storeyed boarding house. You see in the very early days, Wallingford was a stopover between Waipukurau and Porangahau. They changed horses, and sometimes people stayed. Further over the bridge on your right opposite a big old tree that was there on the corner was the blacksmith shop, where Mr Cook lived with his family. There were two girls – one was my age – Annie – and Sheila Violet Cook. Also there was Mrs Sims’ grandson, Harold Nairn. And the ages were so important because Mother taught us all Sunday school, and you chose your text for your little book, which you kept most carefully, in ages. And it wasn’t for many years that Harold told me how much he resented the fact that I was two months older than he was. However the keen competition was probably very good for us.
Mother was a very good teacher quite obviously, because we did not have regular lessons with a governess ‘til I was about seven. But she taught us to read, to write … I suppose large printing … and our tables. We were able to read at a very early age – I know perfectly well that by the time I was six I was reading avidly – ‘Black Beauty’, and all sorts of stories like that. In fact a very strict rule was made that I was only able to read in the afternoon – never in the morning except on Sunday, which I think was probably very wise.
At this stage in our lives more very important people came in. People were very, very important, because of course we didn’t go away from Wallingford very much except for our yearly visit to Tintagel, because visiting locally meant horses and somebody to take you and … really, quite an expedition. So most of our games and fun were at home. We were never bored. I always remember the lovely story of somebody saying to Jim Hunter, “Don’t you find it very dull living in the country?” And Jim, who was two years older than me, said “Oh no – we’ve got the Waipukurau Show, and every few months there’s a christening at Wallingford” – which was a little exaggeration, but of course it had a flavour of truth. They were very special occasions for all of us when this beautiful baby was dressed up in the same robe that Mother had been christened in, and then we stood proudly around, having had tremendous discussions about names and being allowed to have a very great say in what we considered would be the right name for this beautiful creature.
In that sort of age we had two people who came to Wallingford who were very, very important. The first was Mary McKinley from Northern Ireland, who came and was the cook and she was the most wonderful person – very attractive, Irish and such fun and so kind to all of us. I always remember that she was the only person who would dream of cooking eels when we caught them so proudly, and skinned them and hung them up outside on the clothes line. Because when you do cook the cut up eels and put them in the frying pan, they’d jump all over the place. And a great many people [were] absolutely horrified – they wouldn’t even … bear to look at them. But Mary – she just felt that they were our eels and we must have them.
Now after she’d been at Wallingford for about a year, she heard [from] a great friend of hers who’d come out on the same ship who was working in Auckland, and not very happy. So Mary said she must come to Wallingford – Mother was needing a parlour maid. So Grace came. I can’t remember her maiden name because she didn’t keep it so very long. And she was a very tall, graceful, attractive person. She had been working in London in a wool store … not wool, fur … a very posh shop that sold the best furs. It must have been a tremendous shock to her to come into the depths of the country. Jimmy McDonald met her in the dog cart at Wanstead, and I do remember Mary telling me that sometime afterwards, Grace said to her what a terrible young man she thought Jimmy was – utterly shy; never spoke a word from Wanstead to Wallingford – long way in a dog cart. But of course the whole point was that Jimmy was absolutely shattered by this beautiful vision, and he was rather a shy man anyway.
He really was a very important person in our eyes, and I do remember the most dreadful thing that happened earlier – because we had gas in those early days – I don’t think we had electricity at Wallingford until the house was altered – something, I think it was called carbide. And Jimmy, who was a very avid smoker, had been told very firmly that he must never to take a cigarette into the place where he filled the gas tank. He didn’t take a cigarette, but I’m sorry to say that he lit a match to see if the tank was empty or full, and … the most tremendous blast in his face. But he recovered. I remember seeing Mother as usual, who was very used to the casualties on the station, had covered him with some yellow stuff that was used in those days, and then gauze and then cotton wool, and he really recovered remarkably and looked just as attractive as ever. And of course he was quite recovered by the time he went to meet Grace at Wanstead. But he did look … he looked very sad and very peculiar, and John and I, one each side, took a hand and tenderly led him to the car where Dad took him in to the hospital. But no, that was quite a little while before Grace came, luckily.
Granny Wilder lived with us at Wallingford. She and Grandfather Wilder had lived at Taradale until Grandfather Wilder died. I don’t really remember him because of course I must have only been about four perhaps, when he died. After that, Granny sold the house in Taradale and she lived six months at Wallingford and six months at Atua with Auntie Pearlie. Auntie Pearlie of course was her eldest daughter. And she was rather an amazing woman really because it cannot have been easy to adjust herself to living in her daughter’s home, full of children, rather cramped in the early days, because after all, until they altered Wallingford – I can’t even remember which year that important thing happened. But when Granny Wilder came we were all in rows on the verandah, six of us, on the front verandah. And the other six were sort of scattered through the nursery, and some in the dressing room; the baby in Mother’s bedroom. But she fitted in and she was very sympathetic; very good with children. She was a very good inventor of games. Also I remember she played the piano very well, and she loved playing for us to gallop round the drawing room according to the tune that was played … gallopy, gallopy, and then very quietly, and then very quietly when you crept along, and then another wonderful gallop. It was very good for us all because it did make us listen to music and I think it had some great part in helping up to dance properly because we were trained to listen and to move with the music. All those things were great fun, and I think helped us with our happy lives. And I do think that in a way too, that both Dad and Uncle Cyril were the most considerate sons-in-law because it’s not always easy to have your mother-in-law with you. And she was I know, made to feel so welcome.
By this time of course we were very busy with our horses … with our ponies. They went to the Show that was such a [an] important part of Jim Hunter’s life.
And the shearing – that was the thing – that was a highlight. It really was, because we loved being allowed to go into the wool shed, keep right out of the way. We were shown exactly where you went and sat on top of a wool bale, and you kept out of everybody’s way. People were busy; you must never be a nuisance. But it was fascinating to watch, and blade shearing of course in those days. And Mr Ginty was the wool classer. And you watched this very important business going on of wool being thrown on the table. When I was a bit older I was taught how to pick up wool and how to throw it on the table – an art which served me very well many years later when I really wanted to do it seriously. It was Mr Hokianga’s gang, but a person who I was devoted to was Violet. She was one of the fleecers, and of course very young, like … the girls were always doing that job when they were young. And she taught us how to colour pictures with flower petals, and all sorts of exciting things.
We had our precious pet lambs. The lambs were really cosseted – they had frequent baths, and we used to borrow the blue from the wash house so that it [was] really rather a competition as to which lamb was the whitest. Very occasionally one of the boys would turn out something rather bright blue, but it always recovered. But we each had our own lamb and nobody else touched that lamb. It was very good for us in training on how to look after your pet. One of the things that used to amuse people who came to stay at Wallingford would be to go right down to one end of the tennis court with the lambs, and then a row of us at the other end – by this time I should think it was four or five. And we called our own lamb and they would leave … they were all muddled up at the far end … and about halfway down the tennis court each lamb altered its place and got in front of its own owner. And they tore to us, and of course there was a bottle of milk as a reward for their speed and their choice. It was one of the things that has always made me feel quite sure that lambs are looked after and go to their mothers by voices, because why would they know which of us was which at that particular distance. And it was quite interesting … always the change came over just about where the net would be. There are so many things like that that filled our lives – they were very happy.
Then of course came the war. That was thought about; talked about; to a great extent prepared for. I remember all those young men were with their horses drilling and drilling down on the sports ground. And they were so keen, and they were looking after their horses. And I was told many years later that the day war was declared, many of the ones who were prepared all went down to Napier and volunteered immediately. Uncle John and Uncle Tim were among those men. The hard part for their relations and the grownups was the long, long time between getting any news once they had gone away. Their lot we know now, went to Cairo, and they were there for about a month with their horses. Then they left their horses and went to the Dardanelles, and we all know now what a frightful time they had. The saddest thing that happened, and which really I think of with a feeling of frightful shock, was Uncle John was killed. And … poor Granny. Granny Wilder was at Wallingford. Mother and Dad must have been away, and they must have been told the news in Waipukurau or somewhere. Somebody must have got hold of them. And Granny Wilder and I, and I don’t know who else, were in the hall to meet them, and Granny had whatever the baby was in her arms. Mother and Dad came in, Mother looking too dreadful; and Dad took the baby, gave it to Mother and then in a terrible voice said to Granny Wilder, “John Wilder’s killed”. And of course she collapsed … she fainted. But there was no way that you could’ve possibly told a person easily. People talk about breaking news. You can’t – you have got to be direct and tell them.
And then for a long time after that Granny stayed in her room … in a dark room … for several days. She didn’t want to eat or see anybody or even drink. She didn’t even want a drink of water, because I know that Mother got very worried, and she had tried. And then at last they decided to send me in, ‘cause Granny was very fond of me. And I was so little, so young that … I wasn’t another sufferer, if you know what I mean. But I went in and said “Granny, would you like something to eat or to drink?” And she just said, “No, tell them to leave me alone”. And she stayed there getting over her appalling shock. Later she decided to do something about it. Uncle Tim was wounded in Gallipoli but not seriously, and so she decided that she would go to England and work for the Red Cross. So she went to Codford [UK], which was a camp run with many New Zealanders, and her job was a sort of welfare officer for the VADs who were all volunteers, and many of the ones she knew. And I gather that she did was a very, very good job there and was very popular with them. Seemed to me afterwards that she became fondest of the ones who gave her the most trouble.
It was well before the war that our formal education began. Miss Farrow came to teach us. She’d been a governess to the Bartons before – got rather sick of hearing about how frightfully clever they all were. But she was a most wonderful teacher. Of course we had to have a new schoolroom ‘cause there was no room in the house, so Dad had a small room built – I think it was made of asbestos – over against the macrocarpa hedge, almost opposite the new school … what is now the schoolroom wing. And there John, Ted and me started our scholastic career very seriously, and nine in the morning until lunchtime and then an hour in the afternoon, and then a walk. And we were taught by the … what is called the P&EU – Parents and Educational Union. And it was something that was started in Ambleside in England, for people who needed guidance into having their children taught by a proper programme. There was … a lot of people in New Zealand had it, and there was even a P&EU school in Christchurch. I think it was a wonderful system. The books they suggested were excellent. Their English and History were particularly good. I think probably the geography was geared more to England and the Continent than usual for New Zealanders, but it was very good for us and widened our horizons a bit. And they had the most wonderful system for teaching you about pictures, in that each term you studied a famous artist, and the most beautiful prints were sent out … Gainsborough, Turner … all these wonderful people. And for one term you had perhaps Turner’s pictures, and you had one picture a week which you really learnt about. You talked about it, you studied it, you read about it, and it did mean that years later when you went to a picture gallery you went straight to something that you’d heard about – that you knew intimately.
The way you worked was that the work for the term was sent out from Ambleside – the weekly sort of programme – and then at the end of the term you had your exams, all of which had been sent out from Ambleside, and were opened with great ceremony by Miss Farrow, and then your work was uncorrected here and sent back to Ambleside. It all took time of course, because in those days it was all so slow, but it was very fascinating and I really do think it was a most magnificent education. Farrow’s favourite subject was Natural History, and she was very good at it, but of course all our walks were really very serious nature walks. John and I took it fairly calmly, but Ted actively hated it. He used to stump around at the back muttering angrily, “Hate noticing things”, as dear old Farrow would pick a flower to show us the stems or the something-or-other – you know very, very serious. I don’t think Ted’s exam on natural history was probably a great success. But she was as I say a very, very good teacher and we were extraordinarily lucky to have her.
She taught us … well of course for a long time really, because she was there until the dreadful day came when John and Ted had to go to their Prep School. They went to Croydon which was run by a Miss Summerville, who was very top type of person. They were extremely lucky because … Anyway for one year, maybe two, their games master was Arthur Porritt who was a very fine young man – just as fine as he was when he was an older man. And I think they bore it reasonably well, but it was a shocking moment from our point of view because you see up ‘til then it had been John, Ted and me, and we had never done anything separately – riding, games – everything – work in the school room. Mother and Dad and I escorted the boys to Wellington. I shall never forget it. It really became … every moment became more and more dramatic and dreadful. And finally when we left, the two – looking to me very full on figures – standing on the verandah at Croydon, wiping their eyes surreptitiously on the fringe of the rugs that they were holding in their arms. And in the taxi, Dad in the middle, Mother and I one each side, weeping bitterly on his shoulder, Dad just murmuring a tenderful “There, there Betty – there, there”. And the only thing he did say when we got to the hotel was “Well, I’ll have to change my coat, it’s soaked through”. It was very hard on Dad because you know he minded just as much as we did.
Of course, the holidays then became the highlight of our lives. I went on working quite happily because Shelia by then had joined the schoolroom, so I wasn’t alone. And we got along very happily indeed because of course now she was one of the big ones. But I do so remember the excitement when the boys came home in the holidays. And we did all sorts of things … riding mostly really … riding out to the outstation; riding everywhere; riding over to the Cannings, because by then we were able to ride on the roads perfectly happily ourselves. Betty Canning was exactly my age, so that was fun. Peter Canning was a very grand Wanganui boy – we were greatly in awe of him. We had wonderful picnics where we used to all ride over – over the old hill road and scamper up and down the beach – that’s one of the things our ponies really loved, and we adored it.
We had wonderful hockey matches in those days – mostly against a school team, equal ages of us, in Porangahau. One thing that was rather hard luck from our point of view was that some years before, Mr Cook had removed himself to Porangahau because of course there was no more work for a blacksmith. When the coaches stopped, people weren’t continually having their horses shod. And of course the whole point was that Annie and Violet were superb hockey players, and now they were playing for Porangahau instead of playing with us. Very trying. I remember vividly sometimes the matches when Ted, who was very quick and being rather neat and small, darted in between people and managed to snatch the ball from under their very noses. And I know that he infuriated Violet once so much that she chased him down the whole field with her upraised hockey stick. Dad laughed so much that he couldn’t blow his whistle. But those were very amusing, happy days, and a great feature of the holidays.
But the thing that I’ve really got to start right back to the beginning about, are the times we went to Tintagel. That was a very, very important part of our lives, and it began so early that we really never found it strange or frightening or anything, because I do realise that when Mother and Dad went to England, we went to Tintagel a great deal of the time. So we … you might say we became attuned to being there before we even noticed.
It was exciting really from the word go when we first got into the train which in itself was a thrill. And once … we were remembering the other day … the train broke down ’bout halfway I suppose, was it? Between Otane perhaps, and Hastings, just opposite where the Giblins lived. And luckily for us they were friends of Grandfather and Granny’, and so for some wonderful reason – I suppose the train was going to take a long time and they were rather sick of having a whole mass of children, and there can’t have been many people in the train – we were carted up to the Giblin’s where we were looked after until we had a message from below to say the train was ready to go on. We used to arrive at the station in Napier, and … the early part of my memories … being met by Mr O’Rourke who had a huge wagonette thing which fitted in us and all the luggage, and we were driven up in state to the front door of Tintagel. We were then ushered out and into the hall. I remember that hall so well because it had its own particular lovely delicious smell of polish and pot plants, because there was a conservatory just at the front door on your right as you went in. And Mr Chipping had it full of all these lovely different pot plants which were then put in the hall when they were ready to be admired. And then you went up the stairs. You went right into the hall and there on your right was the stairs going up to Granny and Grandfather and Aunt Fanny’s part of the house. We had other stairs going up to our part but they were through a baize door further on.
The verandah was always interesting because it had a lot of garden seats and always in my memory there were Maori people waiting to see Grandfather. You see he was in Wellington a lot, but even … although they knew he was away, they would come every day and wait – I think so as to not lose their place in going to have their interview. I think they must have trusted him and found he was a great help or they would not have gone on coming – family after family and day after day. And I know he could speak a certain amount of Maori, because we could hear him greeting the people as the door was opened and they went into his study.
Granny and Aunt Fanny of course … well, we called it Aunt Fanny’s Napier, because she was the person who seemed to be looking after everybody. And Nannie of course was with us and she would be looking after the baby. At the beginning it would have been Teddy, but I think probably by the time I’m beginning to remember, when I would be five or six, it would have been Shelia, would’ve been the baby. And we were so fond of them all. Granny seemed a very, very little person – you know how people must get smaller when they get older? And she was very, very thin. She always wore a black dress, buttoned right up to the throat with a white ruche around her neck and a very grand white cap on her white hair. And the white cap was lace and it had black ribbons except on Sunday when it had very beautiful purple ribbons. And she was very, very deaf, and we learned very early in our lives to speak as clearly as possible, and also to do what we used to call ‘making faces’, which meant gesticulating and trying to demonstrate with our hands what we were trying to convey.
When we were very little Aunt Fanny was not deaf. Of course the other grandchildren much later on thought she was exactly the same as Granny because she used that same black fan – I think they called them an audiphone – which apparently did help them to hear when you spoke very clearly. But when we were little Aunt Fanny definitely was not … she was not deaf. She could have long conversations. I remember one special one sticking out in my mind – funny how children remember things. She was telling me about the times that Grandfather went away into the bush with the Maoris who were his friends, and was there for weeks at a time – I suppose exploring or … I don’t know what quite. But I said to Aunt Fanny, “Oh, but what about a bathroom?” And Aunt Fanny said, “Certainly not, in the bush”. So I, very worried about poor Grandfather, said “But what about lavatory paper?” Aunt Fanny said, “Nice clean leaves – what more do you want?” So … I was very deeply impressed. It is queer, how the … funny little things that one remembers.
Aunt Fanny of course didn’t wear the same kind of clothes as Granny at all. She really – she was very slim and tiny. She had very blue eyes, but she just wore ordinary print cotton frocks just … really much the same as Mother. Grandfather had a white beard, a very silky, shiny white beard, and when you kissed him good morning it smelt delicious. I think he must have washed it every day in the bath, because that was the time that I noticed it most. We saw him at breakfast. After that we didn’t really see very much of him unless we went with Granny and he to Karamu. They went there once a week, or perhaps it was twice a week but anyway, they went out to get the fruit and get the flowers from Karamu, and look round, and then Grandfather would be talking to Mr Archibald who was the manager of the stud. Granny had a stud of draught horses, great beautiful creatures, used for the ploughing and for wagons and all the heavy pulling and they were magnificent. And Grandfather of course had a racing stud, and that was managed by Mr Waddell. So we met these people and we went out and looked at all these beautiful horses. But Tintagel really … it was very important to us. I always remember at night when you went to bed and you leant out the window, and you heard waves in the distance – you could hear the roar of the sea. And then you could hear the hooting of the train. It was the most exciting sound, that hooting, when it was in the clear evening air. I used to love it.
Grandfather was – he wasn’t exactly awe inspiring, we found him very easy, but of course he was a very busy person. He’d be talking with other people all day, and towards the end of the afternoon he would go down to the Club if he was at home. Mind you when we were very young he was in Wellington a tremendous lot, and only at home at weekends or perhaps I suppose, when the Parliament wasn’t sitting. But every evening after we’d had our baths and in our dressing gowns – Nannie would take us down to the study door and she would knock. Grandfather would say “Come in”, and we would ushered in and then the door would be firmly shut, and Grandfather would play with us. I think he was rather shy because nobody was invited to come in. The games were played very happily, whether it was bears on the floor, or it was telling us a story or two. He sometimes had little rhymes that he would tell us and once or twice he read something to us. And then when we’d had our half hour or whatever the time was, I think it was probably about that, he gave us a very great treat. At home we always had one sweet before we went to bed, but when we were at Tintagel, Grandfather took out of his drawer little … he’d got them ready before we got there of course … little tiny packets, and in each packet was four sweets. And he would put them behind his back, one in each hand. There was always one for each of us, even when the number was odd and he would say “Neebie neebie knick knack, which hand will ye tak?” [Take] And then the hand would come round and you would be very pleased with yourself with this dear little packet of sweets.
Aunt Fanny looked after us tremendously. We used to have our breakfast – well, we used to have all our meals in the dining room with Aunt Fanny supervising. The very little ones had them in the nursery with Nannie, but Aunt Fanny rather liked us to come down – the big ones … well, couple of us then … I suppose three – into the dining room. And there was an oval table which is in the window, and you had the most lovely look out at the sea. The big dining room table where Granny and Grandfather sat was nearer the door, and Aunt Fanny always sat at the end of the table and she cut up the bread and buttered it for you, and beautiful honey. And I always remember the butter – I think lots of us did, because every morning Aunt Fanny made the butter freshly. There was a diary at the back of the house outside by the kitchen, and we used to be allowed to come and stand in the doorway and watch Aunt Fanny making the butter.
Of course in those days, all that land round about Tintagel from the house right down to the road … it was a paddock for the cows. There were a couple of cows I remember, and of course there must have been two or three horses because there was one for Granny Ormond’s Victoria, which was a dear little carriage which was the most exciting thing to be driven in. It’s sort of … it’s rather hard to describe. It wasn’t a real big carriage, it was a miniature one, but plenty of room for a couple or three children as well as Granny Ormond. And we would go down with her when she did her rounds … down to the spit to go to where the cool store was, where … I suppose it was an ice house … where the poultry, and the duck from the shoot, and grouse – everything – all the game was kept and then collected when it was going to be needed at the house. I suppose some of the meat came up from Woodville too. Anyway, that all was collected. And then we would drive along, and I remember we collected some washing. Most of the washing was done at Tintagel, but these were the special shirts for Grandfather which were done by somebody very special down in the port. That expedition was nearly every day and it was really greatest fun for us. We loved it.
Also there was what used to be called a governess cart which cousin Ira used to drive. Cousin Ira lived with Aunt Fanny. Of course she wasn’t there in the term time cause she went to school at Miss Fraser’s in Palmerston. But in the holidays Ira was always there and always ready to do things with us. She had the most beautiful shining black hair and a very long plait which she used to swing over her shoulder, and I used to think it was absolutely marvellous. But in the afternoons very often, Ira would take us for a drive. I remember there was somebody called Mardie Wenley who was rather older than us, but we used to occasionally be taken to play at the Wenleys. And then Ira would sometimes take us down to the Westshore, where the sand was. The main beach in the front … well in front of what is now the Parade was very pebbly and stony and it wasn’t very nice for playing on. There was some lovely sandy beach down past the port and Ira used to take us down there in the … well it must have been a governess cart because … that was the name for it. Rather sort of basket-shaped thing with plenty of room, little seats all facing each other.
The morning room was a very important room in the house. Granny Ormond spent I think most of the day there, and our toys were allowed to be in there … my dolls, and I suppose puzzles and all sorts of things, and [there] must’ve been bricks when we were very small. It had a very nice cool atmosphere in the summer, and somehow it was a very brown room to me. I suppose the furniture and probably a fairly dark carpet. Another room which had a great deal of use was the sewing room, which was at the top of the stairs on your left when you got onto the landing. And there was the machine and there was Aunt Fanny and Granny, doing – it seemed to me – an awful lot of mending, towels and pillowslips and all sorts of things. And there I was taught to sew … allowed to even go so far as to hem a tea towel. And I remember my absolute pride and joy when I heard Granny say to Aunt Fanny, “I really think Margaret will make a needlewoman”. Now that’s miles more exciting than being told that I was going to be able to learn to sew, wasn’t it? Also I was taught how to knit. I could never quite see why people were amused … well, the uncles were horrid about it … when I was knitting very busily and saying, “Two plain, two purrrrl”. But it of course was Granny Ormond’s Scotch coming out in me, and I really did learn very quickly.
What else did we do? Oh the other thing that was really lovely was the Fern Gully. We used to go down there a lot. Mr Chipping – he was the gardener and he looked after the rest of the garden – but the Fern Gully was mostly Uncle Frank and Aunt Fanny. And it was fascinating little paths and a mass in the summer of cinerarias under the ferns. The colour was absolutely fascinating, really … people used to come just to look at it, and visitors came.
Yes, visitors did come to see Granny quite often in the afternoon. And then the drawing room was used. The drawing room’s door was facing the front door, and it was a big room … quite a big room … much lighter, with far more windows facing the sea and a walled-in glass porch. And we didn’t have our toys in there. We were dressed in our tidy clothes when there were visitors for tea, and we’d come in and rather sit quietly in a corner with a picture book or something. And we were really rather in awe of it all, but it was quite fun for a short time. And Granny was always very pleased, you know, to have us in. Grandfather never appeared on those occasions – I think he was hiding in the Club probably. But Granny and Aunt Fanny did entertain their friends quite a lot.
Another thing I remember … school trunks in the hall. These belonged to the Mahia cousins, because when they were on their way home for the holidays, they brought their school clothes to be coped with by Aunt Fanny – mended, washed if necessary, and repacked ready for going back at the end of the holidays. And they collected their Mahia clothes and happily went off … to not be quite so formal as school clothes. And then, again these trunks appeared at the end of holidays and the Mahia clothes were left to be got ready for the next time. Aunt Fanny obviously was a very busy person.
I think that one of the things that I do remember very clearly was when I was older – I must have been thirteen because it was just when Dan was born – and that was when Grandfather died very soon after. Though I saw him and he seemed perfectly all right when I went in to tell him about Dan, because I was allowed to go into the study to tell the proud news of another grandson. But it seemed very soon after that that there was a nurse in the house and the doctor coming a lot, and then the funeral. Ira and I were watching out of the windows at the end … just by the nursery there’s a corridor with windows in it, and I remember leaning out and I have never seen so many men ever. The women never went to funerals in those days. And so many of the men … they were all either in black or with black arm bands, and the ones who were wearing very sort of special mourning … black coats, all had black top hats. And this procession of black seemed to wind itself for miles because of course they came and waited near Tintagel and then they walked from there to the cemetery. It was only a little way, but it made a most impressive procession which … I shall never forget the picture of it. It didn’t upset me – I know, because grandfather seemed so old. And it was more the people seemed to be so impressed by him that that helped me to remember I think.
Actually he was a person that had a great influence. He even had a great influence on me later, because twenty years ago when I first came to Taupo and I wanted to start the Red Cross here – because I was on the National Executive. And they said to me, “Oh – you’ve got no Red Cross in your home town”. So I was talking to Mr Story, our Mayor, the other day and we were remembering together. I went to Mr Story and I said, “May I start the Red Cross?” And he said “Well you may, if Mrs Gillies says you can”. Mrs Gillies was his much older sister-in-law, and really rather ruled Taupo because of course she owned most of it, I suppose. And so I went to see Mrs Gillies. Her husband had Gillies’ Garage and she sat in a cosy little room behind it, just to keep an eye on everything, wrapped up in a very nice rug. It was very cold the day I went to see her … nice fire. So I started hopefully, and I told her all about the Red Cross and that I had been to the St Johns’ people and everybody seemed very happy. She just said, “No”. She said, “We have St Johns. That is enough”. And I tried … I talked for quite a long time. “No. St Johns is enough. We do not need the Red Cross.” Then I started ordinary conversation, and I said to her … I think perhaps I had a vague feeling that it might help. I said, “I think you must know my cousin, Omana – he’s the Member for Eastern Maori – you must have met him”. She looked at me very straight in the eye and she said, “Who are you?” So I said, “well I’m Margaret Hope now, but I was Margaret Ormond.” She said, “J D Ormond’s granddaughter?” I said “yes.” She said, “He was a great rangatira. We Maoris trusted him. You may have your Red Cross”. I was extraordinarily grateful to grandfather.
More information at:
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Recording Donated by Nicola Kelsey in 2016. Sir John Davies Wilder Ormond and his sister, Margaret Hope (nee Ormond), recorded these talks in 1986
Audio File; Local Stories