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My Mother's Story

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

I was born at Chelsea in the April of 1897 and my mother named me Rose after one of her sisters.

I had an older sister and we should have had an older brother but he died at his birth and that is why my father always did his best to have a doctor present at our births. So when I was on my way into this world, Father rowed a borrowed dinghy across to Ponsonby to fetch the doctor. I can only assume that there was no doctor living in the area at that time.

I remember a large photograph taken of me when I was six months old. It used to hang on the wall in our parents' bedroom and had been hand-coloured like a painting. It showed me sitting on a fur rug and wearing a white embroidered dress with wide blue ribbon bows on the shoulders. The same blue as my eyes and the matching velvet of the frame. There was a pair of pictures as there was one of my sister too, that was taken on the same day in the same photographer's studio and her portrait now hangs in one of the cottages at Motat. It seems so far from the first wall they used to decorate.

Our house was down the Sugarwork's road. They call it Colonial Road nowadays. It was the last house down on the right close by the Sugarwork's gate. Father liked to be near his work as he was a sugar boiler and sometimes he was called in at other shifts to fix things if the boil wasn't going right.

Ours was a wooden house with a verandah right across the front and down one side. The front path was made of crumbly white shells with a fancy edging of brown pottery tiles. There were big spiky clamshells either side of the front door which had a polished brass door step. We children had a rocking horse on the verandah. While we lived there, I had a younger sister too and then another baby came along and it was yet another girl. Mother dressed us all in starched white pinafores with lots of frills. They almost covered our dresses to protect them and keep them clean.

St. Peter's Church used to be right next door. Later on it was moved out to Birkdale Road. Mother used often to fill the church vases with flowers. She always liked to keep a garden so we had lots of spring-flowering bulbs and climbing roses. The old rhododendron tree was still there with its bright pink flowers long after the house was gone.

I remember one exciting time when my sister and I were sent into St. Peter's Church next door to pull the rope that rang the church bell as hard as we could, to ring out the good tidings when the news of the Relief of Mafeking reached these shores. It was a great turning point in the British fortunes in the Boer War in South Africa. There was a celebration here because the Empire was very united in those days and thousands of New Zealand men had volunteered to fight with the British against the Boers. We were then too young to know why the adults were so pleased but I've always remembered ringing that bell.

My older sister's name was Laura and when our baby sister was born it was early one very foggy morning and after our father had been gone some time in the row boat to fetch the doctor, Laura and I had to wait at the boat steps and beat a kerosene tin with a stick as hard as we could so that our dad could find his way back to Chelsea. It was eerie there by the very still water with the white fog all around us.

Father was a gentle, quiet man and he had the brightest sky blue eyes. He used to play cricket in a team with several other sugar workers and on most winter Saturdays he would be a referee at a rugby game somewhere in town. I think it usually was the Domain. We would all go over on the Saturday morning ferry. The baby's pram had high wheels and curly cane sides. There was no ferry wharf at Chelsea then and we had to manage the pram up a gang-plank from the sugar wharf onto the sugar boat, across the ship's deck and down a gangway onto the ferry on the other side. The ferry was driven by a large paddle wheel and inside the cabins, the seats were covered in plush velvet.

While our dad was at the rugby the rest of us would visit our mother's sister. Her house was near the corner of Karangahape Road and Symonds Street. A grander house than ours. My uncle made sulkies for the trotting races. From their verandah I remember watching the Labour Day parades go by with bands playing and the marchers with colourful banners.

Mother was a small and lively lady with dark eyes and dark brown curls. She liked to be smartly dressed and wear the latest style in hats. When we walked down to the ferry past the Chelsea village houses, the women there liked to tease her and they would call out "Here She Comes!"

Another of my mother's sisters lived near the sugar works and I used to like to visit her as to get to their house they had their own little bridge across an arm of one of the Chelsea lakes.

When it came time for me to start school, I got a new pair of black leather ankle boots with lots of little buttons up the sides. We had a special kind of hook for doing up the buttons. And we wore our pinafores and black woollen stockings. We had to have to have strong boots as Laura and I had a long way to walk from Chelsea down to the Northcote Primary School which used to be where the College stands now.

The road from the Methodist Church down to the school was called Zion Hill and it was just a clay road with the teatree growing close on other side. There were only a few houses on the way. Every time it rained there would be lots of mud and could not help getting it on our boots.

We would get into trouble at the inspection parade before school and we often had to write a hundred lines "I must polish my boots." It was very unfair because we polished them every day.

I was about seven years old when we moved into a new house in Roberts Road and we owned another house nearby. It's Mokoia Road now - these name changes can be confusing. There was a horse paddock behind the houses and my sister had a pony. Swindale's Farm was just across the road and she often grazed her horse there. They had a well in the garden and a room with a deep cellar where they kept their milk and butter cold. We used to buy ours from them.

It was about this time that my mother's father came to live with us because he was on his own after my grandmother. Before that, he had lived in Grafton in town. Grandad was small and dark and sort of gypsy looking. People would knock on our door and ask for Grandad to wish their warts away and he would if they crossed his palm with silver. This meant if they made a row of silver coins across his palm. And it worked, the warts would just disappear in a week or two.

One Friday night we all went shopping in town. All of us except Grandad and when we were on the ferry coming home we could see flames and smoke on the horizon and thought it must be near our place. When we got off at Birkenhead wharf there were people there telling us, "Hurry, hurry your house is on fire!"

There were horse drawn buses in those days and the driver left everyone else standing in the meantime while he rushed us up the hill whipping the poor horses. We were so worried about Grandad home alone. When we got there, we were rather relieved as it was our other house burning and there was nobody in it.

Down the hill behind our horse paddock there was a beautiful avenue of evergreen oak trees. Many of them are still there today in Holyoake Place but this was before Chatswood had ever been dreamt of. The oaks grew either side of an overgrown carriageway which had once led to my father's parents' house. The house was still there but it was deserted. My grandparents had died before I was born when they were still quite young and sadly when the youngest of their seven children was only six years old. My father missed them very much as they were very sociable people and they'd all had a lot of good times in that house. Sometimes he would take me to sit on the old verandah steps and talk to me about his family. It was in that house that he and my mother were married.

We were living in the Roberts Road house when our family was blessed by the birth of a baby boy. At last a brother for all of us girls and a great joy for our parents after having lost their firstborn son. The new baby boy was a healthy young fellow. He went on to live for more than eighty years. I mention that because I have to tell you of more sorrow to come.

When our brother was about four years old, the next baby to arrive was also a son, which seemed like another miracle. But this birth had been a long and difficult one for our little mother and though he was a bonny and beautiful baby, he lived for only one day. I was then twelve years old but I have never forgotten the sadness of that time.

I recall it as being less than a year afterwards when we moved house again, but our old home is still there today in Mokoia Road, just one along from Porritt Avenue.

We went to live in Northcote Terrace which is another street name that was later changed. First to Marama Terrace and then to Maritime Terrace. It was a lovely house, a large villa with bay windows and a verandah along half the front and down one side to a corner screened by window panes of green and ruby glass.

Mother planted another garden which included her favourite pepper tree and her camellia trees still flower there pink and red. Our father planted many fruit trees down the sunny slope at the back and we had garden furniture there that he made out of tae-tree wood and he made paths that led down to the bush and the stream.

There's an old saying that goes, "New house, new baby," and it came true for us once more. In 1911 our family was completed with the arrival of another baby girl.

We older girls all had our family chores and one of mine was to keep those verandah boards scrubbed so clean they were white. My older sister left home to become a teacher and when the time came that I could be spared from home I went to work in the city at Collins Brothers and Co. - the stationers who had a large building on the corner of Wyndham and Federal Streets. Working there also, was the young man who was to be my future husband.

We were married at the Maritime Terrace house when we were both just nineteen years old. It was 1916 and at that time it seemed that most of the fit young men in the country had enlisted to go off and fight in the Great War. My husband felt he must join them. After he joined the army he was soon sent off to a camp near Wellington and only months after our marriage he was leaving from there on a troopship bound for England.

I stayed on at my parents' home for the next three years until my husband's return from the trenches of France and Belgium and the occupation of Germany.

We bought a house here in Birkenhead, the house we lived in for the next fifty-six years. But that is all another story. We now have twenty-five descendants and sixteen of them are living in Birkenhead. This story has been written by one of them, the one who used to ask so many questions.

- Margaret Paine


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