Newspaper Article 2003 – Life’s lessons learnt at foster homes

Growing up in the Bay

Life’s lessons learnt at foster homes

HARRY DANVERS of Taradale, recalls his early years in Napier’s children’s homes.

It all began in 1892 when a group of women from the Napier Baptist Bible Women’s Society decided that a home for neglected children was very necessary.

A two-room cottage was used as a start, with a respectable widow looking after five children. That building, in a very short time was found to be far too small and a larger house was located off McDonald Street. That also was found to be unsuitable, so a six-room house on an acre in Burlington Road was bought and housed 11 children.

Money was raised and many alterations were made, but as time went on it became apparent that a separate boys’ home was necessary.

Land was bought in Priestley Terrace at the bottom of the gully, for a home for girls. It was named Randall House, after a Mrs Randall, a foundation committee member.

Above Randall House, cut into the hill, a home for boys, Gordon House, was built.

It was rapidly unsuitable for the two dwellings as it was very cold in winter and stifling hot in summer, but the trustees at the time didn’t have much option. The girls seemed to be happy enough with life at Randall House over the years, but it was a very different story at Gordon House.

A Mrs McCrea was in charge of the running of the house with the help of a Miss McCauslin [McAuslin] as sub matron. These two women were very cruel, very harsh and bad tempered. I think they dished out more hidings than hot feeds.

Gordon House was opened in 1913 and as the number of children grew, a new wing was built in 1917. Some of the older girls from Randall House were transferred to Gordon House to help out.

The children from both houses attended Napier Central School and the various churches in turn, in the township.

When the older boys reached the age of 11 years, they were sent on to France House in the Eskdale Valley.

As the years went by the two buildings became unsuitable and were left uninhabited. A house was bought next to the Central School which was owned by the late Sir Douglas McLean in 1943. A lot of alterations were made and in 1945 the mixed boys and girls moved in.

Over the years the numbers dwindled and it was uneconomical to keep the home going so in 1966 it closed.

The boys at France House were cared for from 1937 to 1956 by a very fine couple, Mr and Mrs Les Shaw. He was an ex-army man and she was a registered nurse. They were both very strict, but fair.

Life at France House was great when you look back over the years. We didn’t think so at the time, but we had a great time chasing around the river banks, swimming in the river on logs, sledging on the hill out the back, making tree huts, chasing and digging out rabbits and pinching watermelons – we were never still.

We had our share of work too, plenty of it – hanging out the washing, ironing, polishing, dusting, cleaning all the windows every Friday, making our beds, in fact all the household chores. We were allotted our various jobs and look out if it wasn’t done properly! Out came the quince stick!

We all attended the Eskdale School and had to run two miles to get there. We went to the lovely Eskdale Church every Sunday – it didn’t do us any harm.

On Saturdays at midday we were given one potato, some veges, a piece of meat, one egg, and some flour. We took it down to the river where we had our huts and fireplaces and cooked our tucker. If you fouled it up you went hungry.

We had a wonderful vegetable garden and kept ourselves and the two homes in veges. There were chickens, ducks, pigs and a very small herd of cows. The orchard kept us in fruit, so we were very self-sufficient.

Being at France House in the 40s taught us to respect others; it taught us honesty, caring and self-motivation, all of which have stood us in good stead over the years.

France House was built in 1904 with the help of a generous grant from the late Robert France, after whom the home was named. It was demolished by the 1931 earthquake and rebuilt again in October 1931 and reoccupied in 1933. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Bledisloe, the Governor General in 1931.

The earthquake damage was so bad to the three homes that the children were sent up to Motuiki Island as guests of the Sunshine League in Auckland – a trip they thoroughly enjoyed.

Now that France House is closed, also Randall House and the other four foster homes which were in Napier, Hastings and Havelock North, children are put into private family homes.

Hukarere Maori Girls’ College has taken over France House and we wish them all the best in that lovely environment.

We still have a France House old boys’ reunion every second year. Girls from the other homes are invited. Our next one is January 31 – February 1, 2004

For further information phone Henry Danvers. Ph 8442745

Photo captions –

TODAY: Harry Danvers.

CRAMPED: The Children Home, in Burlington Road, Napier, bought in 1892, soon became too small.

1940-1941: BACK row: Ernie Stewart, Ron Stevens, George Gurr.
Third row: Bill Martin, Mrs Shaw, Dick Smyth, Malcolme Findlay, Les Gurr, Ray Haycock, Arthur Bilby, Roland Dongue [Donghi], Michael Danvers.
Second row: Bill Marsh, Ray Golding, Albert Robertson, Lawrence Stewart, Bill Peck, Bryan Le Gete [Geyte].
First row: Des Golding, Don Simmers, Garth Peck, Snow Codlin, Noel Bilby, Jack Smith, Ivan Stewart, Mr Shaw.

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Hawke's Bay Children's Home

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Newspaper article

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26 December 2003

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