Thomas (Tom) Russell Lowry Interview

It’s 16th of November 2017. Interviewing Tom Lowry at Okawa at his beautiful home, great outlook, lovely lawn in the front, just wonderful. Good morning Tom.

Good morning, Jim.

Now Tom, I’d just like you to give me the life history of the Lowry family, bringing it right up to the present day with you and your son, and … so I’ll leave it over to you.

Well I think my great grandfather [Thomas] came from Cumberland in England, where the landscape is reasonably similar to here. And he came to Nelson in 1846. He thought Nelson was going to be the capital city, and he spent some time down there. [Noise on recording, few words deleted]  [At one stage he] bought or put a lease on Lowry Peaks which is down by Culverden, or one of those South Island places between Christchurch and Blenheim. And he eventually let that go to Robinson who he thought he was in partnership with, and his letter books show him giving advice to Robinson: “If you’d sold those bullocks when I told you, you wouldn’t owe me any money.” And eventually I think Robinson paid him out £1,000. But Robinson probably didn’t hold his knife and fork the right way so he couldn’t lease it, so he had a sub-lease. [Wind chimes]

Anyway, after some exploring through the North Island he [Thomas] came and bought Okawa which was then about twelve thousand acres. And he married Maria Beamish who came from Turakina, over by Wanganui, and they [he] came here in 1852. They didn’t marry until about 1860, and they built a nice house which is in your records at the Knowledge Bank. There’s a story of [them] riding back to Wanganui for Christmas with a baby on the front of the horse. And they probably had a Maori called Tararapa who was their guide, and they did a lot of riding over New Zealand, or over the North Island to get to know the country and the Maoris. [Voices in background throughout]

He [Thomas] had two [three] daughters and a son [Thomas Henry known as TH or Harry]. The son went back to Cambridge and while that was happening Thomas’ wife’s brother, or cousin, Nathaniel Beamish managed Okawa and took up the lease on Kawera Road and also on Pukehamoamoa Station, which he leased in partnership with Donnelly. And Donnelly was a good sheep man, and he drove the sheep to Ngamatea for the Studholmes.

Anyway, when he [TH] came back from Cambridge he married Caroline Watt, who came from Napier,.  And her father [James] was a shipping man and he chartered steamships from England to New Zealand and made a fortune, which he passed on to my grandmother and two other daughters and his son, E J [Edward James] Watt who was a great businessman. And old Frank Logan who was a trustee for him said he had Prime Minister potential. Sold his New Zealand interests and went to Queensland; bought a property called Darr River Downs, three hundred and sixty thousand acres with a hundred and eight thousand merinos on it. He later bought other properties and settled his managers on part of Darr River. He was probably the brightest money person in the family, E J Watt. At one stage had big holdings in Taihape, forty thousand acres of leasehold and fourteen thousand acres of freehold which my Grandfather, TH, was a partner of. And my father, [Thomas Coleman Lowry], I think started on some of that Taihape land – his place was called Pokaka, and he had other land over there as well.

Old Thomas Lowry died and is buried at Puketapu, and may have been a diabetic, or … no, I think he had fits, whatever they’re called. [Epilepsy]

Anyway, he [TH] had three sons and two daughters, all of whom were interested in sport. One of the sons, Jim [James North] married twice and had Jamie and Karen, and Jamie now owns Omahaki which J N’s first wife bought and gave it to him for a present. She was a Falkiner from Australia. They were merino breeders of great note – Haddon Rig Station.

Then my Uncle Ralph – he farmed Ohinewairua and was a great farmer, and farmed his piece of Okawa which he gave to his three children, Robin, Peter and Helen. And he sold the part across the river which his mother bought for him – Dartmoor – and at some stage of his life he went up to Auckland. He always said New Zealand was going to have the America’s Cup, so he bought a block of land up north of Auckland and lived there for the latter stages of his life. He was an interesting character – there’s plenty of stories about him. One of his books that he wrote is called ‘Be Happy, Live Happy, Die Happy’ or something like that … ‘Taihape, Die Happy’. It’s a story of Uncle Ralph’s great exaggerations [chuckle] … with great amusement, too – ‘Be Happy, Die Happy, Taihape’. [Title of book: Taihape, Be Happy, Die Happy] And Peter Plummer worked for him for a while and described him as a wonderful boss and an enthusiastic person. Other people had different ideas but he was definitely kind to us.

Then my father had two boys [Tom and Pat] and two girls [Ann and Carol]. One of the girls married Peter Pinckney and she and Peter got killed in a helicopter crash, and so did the pilot, and left the four [three] children Glenaray Station which is still one of the big sheep stations of New Zealand, run by the eldest son David Pinckney. David had [has] a brother called Tom, and Tom has a nice property at Cromwell on the lake there, Lake Dunstan. And Anna, the daughter, married Tim Hutchinson. They’ve got a lovely property called Double Hill up the Raikaia Valley.

Then after Ann I came. I had a twenty-five year run looking after the rest of Darr River that was left. There was eighty thousand acres left, around about twenty thousand merinos and then when my father got old he gave me some of it – he had half of it and a fellow called Kelly Banks who managed it had the other half. Kelly Banks said to my father “it’s either you or me, one of us has got to go”. So my father asked me if I was interested, I said I was so I bought Kelly Banks’s half share, and Ann and Pat and Carol, my other sister, inherited from my father the other half of Darr River. Eventually, when Ann and Peter got killed, her trustees wanted out of Darr River. So we all got out of Darr River because I was developing the horse stud at Okawa and needed the money.

Brother Pat [went] to Taupo when he was young and bought Jack Alexander’s two thousand acres of bush there, and made a wonderful farm which he’s passed onto his son, Paddy. He had three boys [Paddy, Guy and Mark] and a girl – girl died young.  The other brother is a horse trainer and takes a big interest in another family farm that the Russells left us, and it’s now a huge enterprise and Guy, besides training thirty horses in Hastings, is one of the leaders in the Mount View Syndicate. [Background traffic noise]

Mark farms at … Pat sold some of the land he inherited from his [our] father and bought Duncan McIntyre’s farm at Porangahau, and Mark runs that. He’s got children at Hereworth. Paddy’s got children at Lindisfarne, and David Pinckney’s got a son and two daughters; son goes [went] to Christ’s College [now left], and the daughters have left school. And I’ve got one son and three daughters. One daughter lives in Australia – she’s an artist; one lives at Porangahau, and she is an accountant, or she helps an accountant who’s actually a daughter of Robin Lowry’s – a brilliant girl.

There’s starting to become quite a lot of Lowrys – where … weren’t very many. We had a hundred [and fifty] year celebration in 2002 – celebrated Auntie Beet – who was one of my grandfather’s daughters – hundredth birthday. She lived quite a while in England – she married an Englishman who was a cricketer, Captain of England – they won the Ashes twice. And she went to the war and left the Englishman, and came out to New Zealand and looked after her mother and the rest of us for a long time, and lived in Havelock [North]. And she had I think eleven nieces and nephews, and she left us all a princely sum each. She was well recognised for looking after the Lowry Hut in Egypt. [Knock at door]  When it went to Italy she also looked after that there.

She was good golfer, wasn’t she?

She was, she was Captain of Waiohiki. And E J Watt gave [some of] the land off the Longlands Station which he once owned, which was ten thousand acres, [to Hastings Golf Club]. He had another seven thousand acres of Tuki Tuki Station, and he also owned twenty thousand acres at Reporoa. Huge land owner, and I think in those days they bought and sold land – they didn’t keep it all forever, but they kept upgrading their land. And the Williams family – my grandmother Russell was a Williams – her brothers were big land owners – interesting people in Gisborne and north of Gisborne. There’s books about them. And if you want to get bored reading the family books … you‘ll easily get bored.

And of course my mother’s father was General Russell and there’s books about him. And he had two sons, one was killed in North Africa and the other farmed at Gisborne, and he had one daughter, Mary, who’s still alive … Mary Cave. [Her husband] Adrian’s a very good artist, he won the water colour prize last year for New Zealand. And he’s also a big farmer and has two houses in Wanaka which they go to visit, and he paints mountains well, so …

And then of course, Uncle John Russell that got killed in North Africa, he had two daughters and a son. The son, John Russell, farmed Tunanui ‘til he died when he was reasonably young. He had two [three] sons and a daughter, and [one of] the sons now farm[s] Tunanui. And the daughter married and lives at Sumner, I think, and he’s an interesting fellow too.  Johnny Russell had two sisters, who after his mother married Ormond Wilson, decided that New Zealand was too small for them. One married [wind chimes] a fellow called John Blaker who inherited a title, and he’s a lovely fellow, still alive, but Liz died. Rachel lives in London and she didn’t marry, and Liz didn’t have any children. So there’s not a lot of Russell[s] remaining.

Andrew Russell who runs Tunanui now, he has a [an] interest in a hydraulics factory in Hastings where they do cranes and all those kind of things. They do things like give the cranes the Warrant of Fitness. They’re the only people that are qualified to do that. He also has – in partnership with a fellow who breeds pheasants – they have twenty-four days pheasant shooting at Tunanui, with eight guns and all the aplomb, which they do extremely well. And he’s also interested in computerising the livestock sales for sheep and cattle but it’s a growing business – it’s called Stockex. So he’s an entrepreneur. And his [John’s] other two sons, Dan and Sam – Sam’s a farmer and Dan inherited one of the Williams’ places called Puketiti, and he’s written a book about that, so … quite an interesting book.

So the original Thomas Lowry [James Watt] died in his forties, and his widow [Hannah] married Coleman. His grandson’s written a book about Hawke’s Bay.

Are they from Wanstead?

Yeah, one of the family lived [lives] in Wanstead, yeah.

Anyway, my grandmother [Helen Caroline] had two sisters, [Gertrude and <Unknown>] and a brother, E J Watt. And the sisters – one [married a Chambers, and Gertrude] married an interesting Englishman [Ewart Grogan] who was a surveyor, and he came out to ask Coleman if he could have the stepdaughter. Coleman’s reputed to have said “What have you done?” And he said “Nothing, sir”. “Well go and do something”. And he walked from Cape Town to Cairo – took him three years, and there’s a book about him called ‘Lost Lion of the Empire’. Gladstone, the Prime Minister of England, was his godfather, and there was [were] a lot of Grogan children – the father had two families, each of about a dozen children, and this fellow looked after them, Ewart Grogan. And he said to his grandfather [godfather] “you’ve bought the wrong place to build your port, at Nairobi [Kenya]”. And he [Gladstone] said, “well, we‘ve spent enough money out there now”, so Grogan bought the right place for the port. And when they came to find out that they’d bought the wrong port … the British Government … they had to buy the land off Grogan. And he did the same with the railway line, because he surveyed the … or he and his friends surveyed … the route between Nairobi and the coast, and … I think it’s Mombasa, they called the port. And so the British Government had to buy [chuckle] the railway line from him.

But he ended up Prime Minister of Kenya, and built a wonderful hotel called Torrs Hotel, and I know this because I was coming back from England via Africa and I’d run out of money. And somebody said “you’ll be right when you get to Kenya, you’ve just got to go and look up your great uncle, Torrs Hotel”. And when I got there, there was a note on the inside of the door saying ‘SOLD ON FRIDAY.’ And it rained in Kenya so I couldn’t ever get to see the old fella. But brother Pat went and saw him, yeah. But he was a [an] interesting fellow, yeah.

And the other sister married Baden-Powell – the Boy Scouts – brother, and I think they had a child but I don’t think he had any other. And I went to the house in England – big house in England – but I think they faded a bit, that lot.

But one of the things that is really interesting is that when E J Watt had Longlands Station he recognised that it was mineral deficient. And he was a good friend of Ewart Grogan, who bought a place on the banks or the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and it was also mineral deficient. And they’d both been up at Cambridge together so they knew quite a lot about mineral deficiency in land. So yeah, that’s a bit more of the Watt history. And of course Grogan bred and my Grandmother bred, but the other sister that married, her family faded out. And of course E J Watt – he didn’t have any family, so they sort of faded out too.

But E J Watt lived in a big house in Sydney, died about 1944, and he left Darr River Downs to my father, and the big house which they sold – the big house – and it’s been replaced … divided up. And I can remember going there with Michael Sewell‘s father who’s Dick Sewell, who was my father’s accountant and trustee, and the butler was still there in 1949 and he seemed to have glasshouses and was selling orchids. And anyway, [neither] the house nor the butler survived, [chuckle] I know that. [Chuckles]

So we lived in Taihape – my mother and father – and came over to live here in 1945. And my grandfather [TH] had a horse called Lambourn that won the Wellington Cup, and it was a stallion and my father stood it here as a stallion, the first one – nice looking horse, but not a great success. And then he … in about 1950 when the wool prices in Australia perked up a bit he bought a stallion in England. It was expensive, called Faux Tirage, and he became leading sire in New Zealand and leading brood mare sire for Australasia, and one of his progeny won the Melbourne Cup. So he was the founder of my father’s stud, where my grandfather had one or two stallions that weren’t any good, but he was a wonderful owner and had a superb mare called Desert Gold, and Marsie, my grandmother, [Helen Caroline] was rich so she told him he had to give the winnings of Desert Gold to the war effort, which he did. And she put some money into a hut for the soldiers in the First World War, called ‘the Lowry Hut’, and did the same in the Second World War.

And E J Watt had a good stallion who was Desert Gold’s sire, and he had a stud at Longlands where the Glazebrooks are – Ngatarawa, it was – and the stables there … he built the stables at Ngatarawa.

Then my first wife was Jane de Gruchy, and her mother was a Graham and her grandmother was a McLean from Maraekakaho, so there’s plenty of books about McLeans and Maraekakaho Station. Her grandfather, [Jack Graham], was on the Meat Board, and President of the Show and all those kinds of things. He was a great reader and a lovely man.

He was.

So we had three daughters [Caroline, Georgina and Alessandra] and a son [Thomas Graham]; son’s married and he’s got two daughters and a son, and yeah, he married a Williams from Havelock. [No relation to Williams mentioned previously]  And he runs Okawa now, which he’s purchased some of and some he leases, so … He’s trained in horses and has worked in Europe and Australia. He was stallion man at Widden Stud which at the time had the best stallions in Australia. Now he does sheep, and I trained in sheep and did horses for twenty-five years so … but those animals are all the same.  

You didn’t do cattle, did you?

Yeah, had a few cattle, yeah. Yeah, we had merino sheep and we had two hundred beautiful Santa Gertrudis cows at Darr River. And then I had a herd of cows here, three hundred cows at Okawa, and fattened bullocks. My father used to fatten a thousand bullocks a year on his block, and Uncle Jimmy had mostly sheep, ‘bout four thousand ewes. His first wife bought him Omahaki which he developed into a really nice farm, and his son Jamie runs that now. And Oreka, and Adam, his son, is a farmer, and he runs that. And Jamie had three daughters, and Adam’s got a son and daughters as well. They’re keeping that going.

Uncle Ralph had two sons and a daughter, Helen – Helen married a Williams from Havelock. And Robin – he’s had at least two wives. [Chuckle] And his father had at least three wives, but they’re good with … they’re very good with women, both of them, yeah. [Chuckle] And Robin lives happily in Christchurch now.

I stayed with them when I went down for the reunion.

Oh, good on you.

And Peter – their mother was a Johnson, and Peter Lowry’s written a very good book about the Johnsons, but I haven’t got a copy. It’s a large book and Peter is a great historian. He married twice too, he lost his first wife in a car crash.

Does he still live in Wellington?

He lives in Lower Hutt … at Upper Hutt actually.

He was in the travel business wasn’t he?

He was in the travel business, and he was Chief Executive of travel, or Travel Agents’ Association I suppose, and did Dalgety Travel – I think it was Dalgety Travel. But he’s a great collector of signatures and autographs – yeah, he’s got a great collection. I don’t know how many children he’s got … several of his own, Sally and three brothers I think. They’ve all bred well too, so … family’s starting to increase, Jim.

You’ve done very well.

But there was only a hundred that we could ask at the hundred [and fifty] year centenary – or a bit over a hundred, whereas we went to the Williams’ hundred and fiftieth, and there was a thousand took communion on the Sunday, so we’re a long way behind them. [Chuckle] Yeah. And six thousand were asked to the Williams’ thing, yeah. I was actually asked to go and have lunch on Saturday with the Williams at Te Parae because they’re doing the two hundred year reunion.

At where?

At Te Parae in Masterton – Tom Williams’ place there. Yeah, that’s a big family now … huge.

Yeah, it’s a pretty common name now, Williams.

It is. So the other [great] grandfather was an interesting fellow, J N Williams. He was Mayor of Hastings and at one stage he had several hundred people working in a canning factory before the First World War, although he travelled a lot and ended up with sixty rows of peach trees a mile long, and there’s a book about that.

Oh yes, I think … what was the name?

Frimley Canning.

And the Williams family – they got out here so many years ago, there weren’t many people to marry so they married a lot of cousins. Yeah – I don’t think it’s done them much harm.

If there was to be a book written about anybody, E J Watt should have a book written about him. He was probably one of the most successful people that’s ever come out of Hawke’s Bay.

We don’t know much about James Watt. He was at one stage President of the A & P Society here. He was first President of the Auckland Racing Club and raced a lot of horses up there – not as many as his son raced in Sydney but he died at forty-six with a big house in Napier with twenty-seven bedrooms. He obviously made some money somewhere.

And of course Tom, here you had that wonderful cricket ground [The Grove] on Okawa – cricket ground with the poplars all around it at one time?

Yeah, the big stations in the seventies had cricket grounds – in the 1870s. So Matapiro had a cricket ground.

Usticke had one.

Yep. Yeah.

The mail was quite interesting because the mail for Okawa came up the Tutaekuri River to where Woodthorpe is now … Woodthorpe Station, which was – when my Grandfather, T H, got short of money his wife bought some land … she bought Woodthorpe Station off him, which she gave to Ralph’s children. And then she bought what we call Ohiwia now, off TH too. She left that to me, so that was all good work for her. Yeah.

But the Russells were neighbours of the Lowrys, and I think the Russells thought that the fences were one way. But then they got another neighbour – who’s now dead – and they thought sort of a hundred years later, that the fences were one way fences too, [chuckle] so maybe they inherited that way of accusing people of getting sheep from that [chuckle] … yeah. Anyway the one-way people have got as many sheep as the Russells have. [Chuckle]

Oh well – all friends then.

All friends then, yeah.

So Matapiro used to come to Okawa to get their mail in the 1860s. And yeah – I think that T H Lowry was good with the Maoris – got on very well with them. When the Maori Wars were happening he buried the silver in the bottom of the garden. In spite of the fact that Mrs Beamish’s sister’s husband was killed in Gisborne, they raised one of the kids who became a shooting champion, and he was reared here.

Yes – if we update my page I think I married Joannie at the end of 2001. She was Joannie Hyslop, the wife of Angus Hyslop. And she’s got a son who’s a wine grower and cattle farmer at Crownthorpe, and a son who’s a stock agent and farmer in Timaru at The Levels, and a daughter who’s in Gisborne, and she has been a caterer and she’s keen on dressage and horses.

This concludes the talk with Mr Tom Lowry from Okawa.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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