Thomas Gilbert, Effie’s father came to N.Z. on the “Indian Queen” in January 1857, together with his wife Mary Ann (formerly Lee) and her two children by a previous marriage.
Thomas was born in the village of Water Orton in Warwickshire on 4th February 1835. He was the second child in a family of 6 children, a 7th having died in infancy. His father, John Gilbert had married Ann Horton on 13th October, 1831 in the church of Ashted St. James the Less. In 1831 this was a fashionable suburb of Birmingham. Nothing is known, however about the circumstances of John and Ann. But in 1845 at the age of 10 years Thomas was apprenticed as a learner gardener at a nearby Manor. He retained his love of gardens all his life although the exigencies of carving a farm out of the forest did not give him scope in this direction after his arrival in New Zealand.
Some time later he made a step up in the world, becoming a coach-man to a London doctor. How long this lasted we do not know but, in October 1856, at the age of 21 years, he was married to Mary Ann Lee, a young widow 7 years older than himself. Shortly afterwards together with Mary Ann’s two children from her previous marriage (Violet and Lizzie) they set off for New Zealand.
Why they chose to do this is not known, but one may speculate. About this time Edward Gibbon Wakefield who set up the New Zealand company was active in the vicinity of Water Orton. Together with friends he was in the habit of visiting nearby, they enthusiastically set about dreaming up their scheme. This was that the company was to “buy up” large tracts of land in New Zealand which they viewed as an unspoilt paradise on the other side of the world. Here they would set up an ideal society – ideal for them – for they were to be the landed gentry, the rules of this new land. This idea was most attractive to Wakefield who was something of an adventurer. As a younger son he had no prospects in England and little income, although enjoying the tastes of nobility. Indeed he was already in serious trouble for abducting a young heiress, only 16 years old, whom he hoped to marry. (At that time a husband had sole control over property of his wife). Some time later a law was introduced, “The Married Women’s Property Act” which protected the property of married women. Wakefield was apprehended before he could marry the girl, and spent some time in prison as a consequence.
So this wonderful fantasy of the good life in the South Seas was very appealing. The New Zealand company acquired large areas of land in Nelson and in the North Island. Later on trouble with the Maoris broke out over unsatisfactory land deals, the so called Maori Wars. But that is another story.
There was only one snag in Wakefields’ scheme, they needed people to do the actual work to provide them with the good life. So the New Zealand Company set about attracting emigrants who were promised land in the new Country, a very attractive possibility for many. These exciting ideas had been current in the countrywide for some time so that young Thomas would be well aware of them in his decision to emigrate to far New Zealand.
Be that as it may, Thomas and Mary Ann arrived in New Zealand. Mary Ann was heavily pregnant and it is said she gave birth to twin boys on Petone Beach soon after landing in the new Country.
Thomas was allotted a piece of land in the Ohariu Valley near Wellington, and the family set out to take possession. This land was in standing bush, a daunting prospect for a young inexperienced man with a wife and 4 little children, his wife very soon pregnant again. In due course she presented him with twins again, two girls, of whom one did not survive long. In quick succession 5 more children were born, two of whom did not survive infancy.
It is very difficult to develop a property without some cash and there was little cash in the Gilbert household. As the land was cleared the trees were cut up into firewood and carted to Wellington, trundled round the streets in a wheelbarrow. This provided the only money in the early days. As time went on and the land was cleared things became better, but not much, as every spare penny had to be put back into the land again. One pities the wife under these circumstances.
However, “A Return of the Freeholders of New Zealand Wellington 1882-1184” mentions Gilbert, Thomas, farmer Ohariu, Hutt county as having 405 acres, value £2,800 and a further 284 acres in Waipawa Country, value £330, in all £3,130, not a bad sum for those days. Thomas was an indefatigable worker and moreover had a good head on his shoulders as witness the above.
But Mary Ann had not survived to enjoy this. She died on 7th July 1879, at the age of 51 years, a worn out woman. Her grave could still be seen until recently in the Ohariu cemetery.
In less than a year Thomas married again. His good friend, John Brand had arranged the marriage. He sent for his daughter Sarah Ann to come from England. So, on 9th April 1880, Thomas Gilbert was married to Sarah Ann Brand. He was 45 years old, his bride was 22. In 9 months Sarah gave birth to a son, who was named Wentworth after Thomas’ youngest son who had died in infancy. Less than two years later another son was born, Norman.
This marriage was doomed to unhappiness from the beginning. It was not a question of the difference in age. They were two people of quite different temperament who had married for expediency, not love.
Thomas was a person of little schooling but with a good brain, of very tenacious temperament, very hard working, having a love of the land. His daughter-in-law Claire, Norman’s wife, who had known him as an old man, a few years before his death, said of his death, said of him, “He was a dear old man”. He also told her of his second marriage, “As I turned away from the Altar I knew that I had made a mistake”!
Sarah Ann Brand was born in London at 24 Hardington Street in Marylebone in February 1858. She as the first child of John Brand and Jane Cudlar. Not much is known about the early life of John Brand other than that he is described on Sarah’s birth certificate as “a Tarpauling” maker.
When Sarah was 13 years old John Brand tool off for New Zealand on the “England” and vanished from the scene. This was a very unhappy time for the family, as after a year or two their mother died. Their mother’s relatives, the Lees took the children in then and they remained with their relatives until they left for New Zealand in 1880.
Then right out of the blue their father’s letter, implying, though not actually stating any details, that he had made good in New Zealand and was sending for his children to join him.
But when they landed in New Zealand they found the actuality very different. Their father had no home, he had made no provision for their reception, he immediately presented Sarah to his friend Thomas Gilbert, a man of 45 years with a grown up family, very recently widowed whom she was expected to marry forthwith.
Sarah was 22 years old. She was shocked and distressed, not knowing what to do . She did not feel ready to marry anybody, and certainly not this stranger. She felt herself responsible for her younger sister and brother, however and this weighed heavily upon her. She spent the whole, unhappy night, praying for a way out, for guidance. The answer came that if she married Thomas she would be able to do something to help his children who had received a minimal education. Their father who had made his own way through perseverance and hard work did not believe in schooling.
So, on 9th April 1880 Sarah became the wife of Thomas Gilbert. It was a marriage of opposites, Thomas sternly practical and hard working, Sarah, young, inexperienced, well educated for a woman of her time, interested in things of the mind and spirit.
Thomas was not an unkind man. He did everything he could to make his young wife happy. But the situation in the family was not conducive to a peaceful life. There were 7 children still at home, the eldest actually older than Sarah, the youngest 13 years, and none of them interested in Sarah’s well meant efforts to raise their level of culture. Added to which she was very soon expecting a child, a son, Wentworth (named after the last born child of the previous marriage who had died in infancy).
In the meantime Sarah’s father, John Brand had returned to Dannevirke where he was living. When he came out on the “England” with the Scandinavian settlers they had been granted land in the vicinity of Mauriceville in Hawkes Bay. There is some doubt as to whether or not John Brand was granted land or not. At all events if so, he did not clear it. Not for him the slog of cutting down the virgin forest.
The trip out on the “England” had been a very traumatic one. Constant gales had blown them far to the South among icebergs and arctic temperatures. Add to this, illness had broken out on board, many people died of smallpox and measles. They were in such a bad way that they were disembarked on Soames Island in Wellington Harbour, where they were kept for some weeks to recover and much of their clothing was burned. This was the origin of Soames Island as a quarantine station.
Well, back in the Ohariu Valley life was anything but peaceful. William, the eldest son had married Alice and Fred had married Nelly, the 16 year old girl who was working in the household as a domestic help, having first made her pregnant. It was said that “the young wives were always quarrelling”!
However, after some time this situation resolved itself. In 1884 Thomas gave up his land at Ohariu and purchased the newly built Central Hotel in Woodville. Sarah, with two little children, Wentworth 3.5 years old and Norman 2 years old, with husband and step-children moved to Woodville, a small town confidently expected to have a bright future. The railway from Wellington to Hawkes Bay was being built. Woodville was designated as a junction on this line and very extensive railway yards were laid out and built, though in the event, never used. For what reason is not at all clear, Dannevirke some 20 miles further along the line became the junction and grew and flourished as a country seat. But at the time Thomas bought the Central Hotel, it was confidently expected that Woodville was the up and coming place to be. This was a step up in the world for the Gilbert family, but still Sarah was not happy. She bitterly resented the fact that she was called upon on occasion to serve at the bar. For the rest of her life she hated the mention of alcohol and the thought of drunken men was anathema to her.
However, the hotel prospered and very soon Thomas bought 240 acres of land two miles out of Woodville on the main road to Napier, in standing bush. He employed some of his elder sons in clearing the land. Gradually a farm took shape. It is one thing to cut down the forest trees, but then comes the wearying and time consuming task of clearing away the stumps, burning, cutting, digging, dragging with horses and chains. And then all those stumps have to be piled up and gradually burnt. The editor remembers as a child, in 1926 visiting the farm all those years later that her Uncle Norman, Thomas’ son, was still coping with the odd stump left over from so long ago.
After several years Thomas was already farming some of the land and had set about building a house and laying out a garden, to please his young wife. This was on a scale far beyond what one would expect to find in a country farmstead and was obviously a labour of love for the land, coloured by Thomas’ early experience in aristocratic English gardens. The house itself was a solid kauri structure, with high ceilings, with a wide verandah across the front. The parlour had a large fireplace with imitation marble mantel and surrounds. On each side of the fireplace glass fronted book cases rose up to the ceiling, stocked with a range of good books. There was good furniture and a piano. Later a small conservatory was added to the side of the house.
The garden itself was laid out on the pattern of a manorial garden. A large area had been set aside enclosed by holly hedges trimmed in a crenellated pattern. Long flower beds were laid out the length of each side and across the front of the house, bordered with neatly trimmed box edges. In the front of the house a very large circular lawn was laid down, surrounded by gravel driveways. At the front was a large, white painted wooden gateway bearing the name “Woodlands” (because that was what had once been there).
This garden is well known in the vicinity, and years later when Thomas’ son Norman had taken over the property, it still contained many of those fine old roses and shrubs planted long before. It all required much attention and must have absorbed a considerable amount of Thomas’ time. He obviously saw it as a mark of his prosperity and a pride in considering that by his very hard work he had risen from insignificance to landed well being.
After 6 years at the Central Hotel, the family moved out to “Woodlands”.
The sons and daughter of Thomas’s first marriage had married and moved away, with varying degrees of success. Those who had married capable wives prospered, those who married uneducated wives, struggled on poor farms. However, it has been said that all Thomas’ children were “nice” people, gentle and hard working. And for those who did not prosper, one must understand that times were very hard in those days, and then, as now, education made a big difference to success or failure.
The eldest son, William, married Alice and together with his younger brother, Thomas, went farming in Paihiatua. Alice was a very good manager and together with the hard work of Will and Tom they built up a most prosperous farm and fine house with nice garden and tennis court. In later years when the farm was leased to Share Milkers, Auntie Alice groomed the two old gentlemen in the role of country gentry. They had two daughters who went to boarding school and married well.
Others of the sons were not so successful. Frederick who had married Nelly was not so fortunate. He lost his farm during the depression. Others somewhat similarly.
These wives considered that Sarah was a “very pampered wife”. She had all her babies in Wellington, a lovely house and garden, someone to help in the house. But Sarah thought otherwise.
The following is the text of a letter sent to her son Norman, many years later, in 1914, after she had left her husband, from her hospital bed. She refers always to “my husband”, never by his name, nor “your father”, as she was writing to her son, one might have expected. Neither does she refer to her “home” as the Central Hotel in Woodville as it must have been at that time. Hence “the rough Navvy’s” to which she refers evidently patrons of the hotel from neighbouring logging gangs. As mentioned before she bitterly resented her life at the Hotel.
“I thought I would send you this little experience and reminiscence of the early days of Woodville. Yes, poor father would work and work, but no head to manage. I often used to picture the forlorn creature he would have been without of wife. Yes, he would go off to Kumeroa (Ed: where he was helping his elder sons Will and Tom to break in a piece of land. I don’t think Thomas had much taste for the life of a hotelier either. He was a man of the land, but probably bought the hotel to please his wife, also offering a change from back blocks farming). He would go week after week and leave me to manage the house full of rough navvys, but it speaks well for their conduct the whole seven and a half years I was there I was never once insulted by any of them. In fact I have proved once you gain their respect they are so loyal. ……..
…….. My husband being engaged in farming, at this time his farm was some miles away from the then small Bush township where we had our home. (Woodville).
As is well known in New Zealand the roads in freshly opened up country are at certain times of the year impassable.
So, my husband’s farm by the proper road, just then formed, but not metalled, was nine miles. In the winter and spring this road was impassible, but by going a long way round by another road of some twenty miles, also having to ford a most dangerous river, the Manawatua, he could reach his farm.
He usually started on a Monday morning, returning the following Saturday. The weather had been very rough and wet for several days, but this particular Monday it cleared up, but we knew that the river would still be in flood. My husband was one of those men who never saw fear, in fact was rather reckless where he wanted to do a thing, so all my persuasion not to go that day, was of no avail.
Off he started with two horses and his dray loaded up with divers articles he was conveying out to some of the settlers. I may say I could not help feeling uneasy, but only got my husband’s derisive laughter, said the river would be down by the time he got there etc.
However, I consoled myself and bade him goodbye ……….. I was sitting at the piano, quietly playing to myself when suddenly I felt my husband so strongly. I got up and stood looking through the window into what seemed space. I saw my husband, the horses and dray in the river. I could see my husband was in difficulties. I stood breathlessly watching him try to extricate the horses. The water was flowing through the dray and was in strong current nearly up to the horses’ backs. Presently I felt a great sense of relief, my husband had managed to cut the horses free from the harness and with great difficulty reached the shore on the back of one of them. The dray was locked in amongst the boulders, and alas, the other poor horse was swept off its feet and was soon no more. I carefully noted the time but said not a word to a soul. …….
……. When my husband returned the first thing he began to tell us of his perilous experiences, how the road was so bad that it had taken him so much longer, in fact all day, to reach the river which was still in flood. It was getting dusk too, his farm being close by, but on the other side of the river, he decided to try and cross, but the current was too strong and the water too deep for the poor horses, strong heavy draught horses too, so my husband found himself in real difficulties. He did all he could and began to think it was all over with him. He thought of me and his home and wondered if he would ever see me or his home again.
Then as a last resort he thought he would try and crawl along the horse’s back, keeping his feet as best he could upon the dray shafts, he managed by degrees to cut the leader free from the harness, then the shafter, finally clinging to the mane of latter my husband had to trust to that dear horse and it swam ashore to safety. But the current proved too strong for the other poor horse, but my husband felt thankful that he was safe though minus his horse. He told me that at one time the situation was so serious that he never thought he would see his home again. So I suppose this would be a case of Telepathy, I was very careful to ask him the time this happened. It was just the time I saw him. The details too were correct.
The next day the river was down considerably. Some neighbours with their horses managed to recover the dray which had drifted much further down. You may be sure there was not much left in it, some empty bags that had once contained sugar, and a few other much damaged articles.
I need hardly say that since this happened some twenty eight years ago that there are now splendid roads, also bridges over the river at different points, also that most necessary of all comforts, the Mails and telegraphic communication.
I would like to add that since this experience with my husband I have had many others, which only goes to convince me of the truth that Telepathy and Clairvoyance is an undoubted fact.” She also “saw” the death of her brother John, who was a sailor and who was drowned at sea.
Sarah became very interested in the Theosophical Society which had formed a branch in Wellington in 1884. She studied their books with avidity and liked to refer to the various founders and organizers of the society on intimate terms. She liked to classify people as “evolved” (or unevolved) types. She used the expression, “my mind is on higher things”! And as explained elsewhere it was through her connection with the Society that her daughter, Effie, met her future husband, Gordon Short whose parents were keen followers also of the Society in Wellington.
But the Gilbert household was not a happy one. Sarah took to her bed frequently during which times her daughter Effie was expected to stay home from school in order to nurse her mother. In fact Effie did not leave school until she was 17 years old but frequent absences made it difficult for her to keep up with the others, a grudge which followed her most of her life. She developed digestive disorders (a nervous stomach) which she put down to the fact mealtimes were always so strained. Thomas believed that this sons should remain at home working the family land. He had risen in the world through the land and he could not see any other kind of life as desirable. This meant that there were three grown men in the farm, Thomas and his sons, Wentworth and Norman. Each had their own ideas about what should be done and added to the cash flow problems this led to frequent arguments and at mealtimes were the main times when all were together these became daily battlegrounds.
Later on Wentworth took a share out of the farm and set out on his own, buying a farm on the other side of Woodville, a farm strapped for cash, and worked with resentment which struggled unhappily for the rest of his life. For Wentworth hated farming. He had wanted to become an engineer but his father would not hear of it, the land was the thing which every right thinking male should love. Wentworth was a very difficult person to get on with, probably inheriting the neurotic temperament of his mother and grandfather Brand. He was loudly argumentative, a bitter resentful man who gave his poor wife a hard time. Although it is true that she did not help, being a disappointed woman herself. In 1914 Wentworth married Mary Battersby, (known as Minnie). Here was no love involved as both parties were suffering from shattered romances and had married on the rebound. It was a most unhappy experience to visit them as both parties were constantly sniping at each other with hurtful, wounding comments. Minnie did not care at all about the house or garden and Wentworth constantly said how much he “hated’ farming. Why did they stay together? Who knows! They seemed to take perverse pleasure in life in wounding each other. But in the process they warped the lives of their children. Into this background their two daughters, Gwenyth and Joyce were born and it is no wonder that in later life both displayed the family “taint” to considerable degree and led unhappy, twisted lives. Yet, in his own way, under different circumstances, Wentworth could have been a talented man. He had inherited his grandfathers love of music. Taught by his mother he became a very competent pianist who was much in demand as a player in the frequent country dances in the vicinity. Together with his brother Norman they would walk to various venues. It is even said that on at least one occasion, and maybe there were more, he and Norman walked to a dance in Dannevirke, 16 miles each way!!!! Oh, the enthusiasm of youth! Later, after his marriage he went to Australia with sheep shearing gangs, he sent back letters, keenly observant, very well expressed in a good literary style and in a fine flowing handwriting. He was definitely a very square peg in a round hole. Although it is obvious that he had inherited more than a little from his mother and his grandfather Brand.
On the other hand Norman had all his fathers love of the land. He eventually took over “Woodlands” and handed it on in due course to his own son, Ian. (But in the third generation it passed out of the family as Ian and his wife, Sylvia moved to Auckland in middle life).
However, on April, 1916 Norman married Claire May Sinclair (the girl with the story book name as she was called on one occasion). Claire had come up from Wellington, having the opportunity to buy a shop and dress making business in Woodville. She moved up with her aged mother and Minnie Battersby (who afterwards married Wentworth Gilbert) who had trained in Wellington with Claire and who as to assist in the shop. The romance was instigated, if not fostered, by the arrival of a new baby on the West Coast. Norman had had his eye on this bright, lively young woman for some time but being of a retiring disposition, thinking of himself as a shy country boy, he hesitated to put himself forward. He didn’t think that such a clever, lively young woman would be interested in him. But the gods were smiling. Norman seized the opportunity, his dear sister Effie had just given birth to a little girl (Phyllis) and of course he must send a present. So he boldly entered the shop. Together he and Claire chose a bonnet. Eighteen months later, on 6th April 1916 they were married and “lived happily ever after” for it was a very successful marriage. Two children were born to them, first a daughter, Norma, and several years later a son, Ian.
Now the story of the youngest son, Neville was somewhat different. Sarah had not ceased to plead that he be allowed to seek a life away from the land. Finally Thomas relented and to Sarah’s great joy Neville was apprenticed to the firm of Turnbull and Jones in Auckland, a large firm of merchants and electricians, as a trainee electrician. Neville was very handsome, tall and slim, his mothers darling. Later, during the war he went to England as a solider. During his leave he went to call upon the family of his mothers cousin Polly Watson. There were a number of sons and daughters in the family, but Neville was at once attracted to the second youngest, a daughter, Muriel. Their romance flourished and in 1919, a year after the end of the war, they were married. Neville settled in England and only went back to New Zealand years later for visits. His father-in-law helped to set him up in a business, manufacturing electrical goods, irons, electric fans, hot plates and so on under the brand name of “Bandy”, the emblem of a bandy-legged bulldog. He became a prosperous English gentleman, in the course of time undertaking new enterprises. His marriage was happy and prosperous. He and Muriel had three children, Donald, Trevor and a daughter Daphne.
At that time it was very much of a man’s world. Daughter Effie was expected to care for her ailing mother and run the household. This was a very miserable existence for a young girl. Earlier on, her schooling had frequently been interrupted by the ill health of her mother. As the time went on Sarah became increasingly a burden, becoming suicidal and having to be watched night and day. Effie’s only distractions were the frequent letters of her fiancé, Gordon whose story is told elsewhere (“Gordon and Effie”), and sometimes his visits, not as frequent now-a-days as formerly now that he was studying in Dunedin, and the kindness of her brother Norman. Norman it was who in former times had always been on hand to help her catch her pony to ride to school, (his name was Roy and he was full of tricks), who was always ready to carry the heavy buckets of water for the washing – there was no running water in the washhouse. All the water for the frequent, heavy farm washing had to be carried by hand. It was Norman who when the time came, stepped in and made the arrangements which enabled Effie to marry.
In the meantime it was decided to send Sarah with Effie in attendance down to Christchurch to stay with Sarah’s sister Jenny who was now married to Mr Haxel, in the hope that the change of scene would help Sarah. However, it turned out to be something of a disaster. Sarah became if anything, worse. She could not bear any light and lay all day and night in a darkened room, needing to be watched all the time, and that meant for the most part, her daughter. Added to this Jenny’s two daughters, Myrtle and Leila, and especially Myrtle, resented the presence of the visitors and went our of their way to be unkind in many little mean and hurtful ways. On to this scene, out of the blue, came Gordon’s long telegram, telling of his new job in Denniston and begging Effie to marry him at once. What despair filled Effie’s heart! It all seemed an impossible dream. But as they say, “the darkest hour is before the dawn”! Brother Norman sprang into action. He arranged (and paid for) his mother’s removal to a rest home in Christchurch, and arranged the details of the wedding in Wellington. So, on 28th December, 1911 Effie and Gordon were married and Effie, the timid, experiences shrinking violet, set off on her honeymoon to Denniston, that rough, tough mining town on the West Coast.
In the course of time Sarah became much better. She never returned to Woodville, but made her home first in one rest home, then in others, ending her life at the St.Heliers Rest and Convalescent Home, a pleasant place run by two former acquaintances of Gordon and Effie from Waihi, with a lovely view over the harbour and Rangitoto. She had a small, comfortable room, surrounded by her books. In 1924 she was able to accompany Gordon and Effie (together with Elizabeth and William Short) on their trip to England. She died in Auckland in 1934 at the age of 78 years. Thomas had died in 1916 at the age of 81 years.
There is no doubt that her gradual return to health was brought about by her interest in the teachings of the Theosophical Society. Although she had joined the Society soon after its introduction in Wellington the pressures of her life and present frustration and unhappiness had overwhelmed her. Later on, freed from those responsibilities and surrounded by her books she studied avidly. Acceptance of the theory of reincarnation brought a deeper meaning into the pattern of her life. She as able to understand herself better and accept the idea that each lifetime is a learning experience. At the end it all began to make sense.
There is no doubt that Sarah endeavoured to do her duty as she saw it, by her husband and children, but hers was not a robust nature. She was not the pioneering type (of whom we read in such publication as “Petticoat Pioneers”). She had been lured out to New Zealand under false expectations. She believed that her father, J.Brand had “made good” in New Zealand and was sending for his family to share “the good life” with him. The reality shocked and distressed her, but there was no turning back.
Like her son, Wentworth, she was indeed a square peg in a round hole. She liked to speak of others as “refined” types – or the opposite – of evolved (or unevolved) persons. She liked to be in the company of the “refined” types and used her deafness in later life to avoid contact with the others, in whom she had no interest or who were not sufficiently “refined” or “evolved”.
Her grand-daughter Phyllis has in her possession a notebook of her poems, not great poetry but meaningful and obviously coming from the heart.
Now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even great-great-grandchildren have multiplied and spread around the world. I do not know of any one who is not leading a good and fulfilling life. Her talents have been spread around, the weaknesses strained out and strengthened by other blood lines. Perhaps in some future time their stories will be told too by abler pens than mine.