My Family – A new life in New Zealand.
By Jack Blyth.
Some would say I’m European, some would say I’m Pakeha, some would say I’m a Kiwi but I would like to say I’m a New Zealander. I come from a family which started from many origins all brought together by the prospect of a better life in New Zealand. All made the choice to travel for three long months by ship in hazardous, crowded, cramped, conditions to come to the new world – Aotearoa – The land of the long white cloud. The land of opportunity leaving behind the family life they knew anticipating a better life. For some this would be true for others they would discover hardship.
For my great, great, great Grandfather, Albert [Alfred] Willyams, who had arrived in on the West Coast of New Zealand and found a job in the coal mines sadly his hopes and dreams of a wonderful and easy going life were shattered by the Brunner Mine disaster which struck on Thursday, March 26th 1896. An explosion deep in the mine killed all 65 workers, unfortunately Albert was working at the time and was killed leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth and their 6 children, 5 sons and one daughter, Edith. Following this disaster Elizabeth moved her family to Christchurch to find work. This disaster had an ongoing effect for new all immigrants to the West Coast as the lowered economy meant fewer jobs and my Great Great Grandfather, William Robert Leetch [Leech] who had arrived in Hokitika in 1892 from Ballymena also moved to Christchurch to find work. There in Christchurch Edith Willyams and William Leetch met, married and had a daughter and a son, William Albert Leslie (Les) Leech. Les married Nancie Hepworth in 1941 and they settled in Timaru where he became a prominent businessman. They had a daughter and in 1944 a son, Russell Keith Leech, my grandfather. (RK. Leech, personal communication, March 12, 2017).
On the other hand the story of another Great Grandfather, Roderick MacRae MacLean was vastly different. Born in 1906 in the Kyle of Lochalsh, his family had been struck with the great flu epidemic and his mother – Zella and 5 of his 10 siblings had died. Rod was sent to New Zealand in 1921 at the age of 15 to be raised by his Aunt, Catherine. He arrived to the MacKenzie Country where his aunt was established and worked on the high country stations. In 1940 his life in New Zealand was to change when he joined the Army to fight in