52 Ancestors … Week 18

The topic for this week is Pets.

I do not know if my grandparents ever had a dog, I suspect not, but my parents definitely did early in their marriage, according to a photo. But I have no memory of it. By the time I was 11 I’d decided I MUST have a puppy, and gave my parents no rest until they agreed, the tipping point being an advertisement which 12 year old me spied in the local newspaper. I became the owner of a darling little black and white fox terrier cross which I promptly named Whiskey. For the next two yeas he was my constant companion, we would wake at dawn and go for long walks, getting back just in time for breakfast and then school. But as I grew older and became more absorbed in schoolwork and after-school sport, a much larger and stronger Whiskey became bored, jumped our tall back fence with ease and took to following my little brother to his school. It was decided to “send Whiskey to a good home in the country” to which naively I reluctantly agreed. I still hope even now that it was true!

(Photos to be added at a later date)

52 Ancestors – Week 17.

The theme for this week is … DNA.

As a retired medical research scientist I was excited when DNA arrived on the genealogical scene. But I soon realised that my early knowledge was seriously outdated – here was a whole new world.

DNA analysis has certainly helped settle a few genealogical questions. So far there have been no surprises, welcome or not, in my own family; just confirmations and a few distant cousins to discover.

The most useful was in my paternal Great Great Great Great Grandfather’s family. Thomas Cochrane 1733-1804 and his wife Ann Kerr 1733-1789 had ten children, according to a huge old family bible – an absolute treasure trove. In addition, Thomas Cochrane left a will. So I know for certain who his children were and who most of them married.

But the bible records, which I have put up on various genealogical sites, has not deterred a number of people from claiming that Thomas and Ann were their ancestors, that they had children with other names (some at improbable dates), and that various of their children married other persons not mentioned in the bible. The main problems are that Thomas, Ann, Margaret, Jean, James, John, etc. were very common names in those times, it was not compulsory to register baptisms and also the surname Cochran(e) was very common in Renfrewshire. So it is very easy to claim ancestors who are not (!).

DNA helped me unravel such a line. Thomas and Ann’s daughter Margaret Cochrane, born 19 August 1760, married a weaver named Peter Stewart Donald according to her father’s will. But several people claim she was the wife of a completely different man and had several children with him.

Records show that Margaret Cochrane and Peter Stewart Donald (1757-) married and lived in Dunbartonshire where they had at least two children, Jane (or Jean) Donald 1780-1864 who married Robert Hillhouse, and Janet. This has been confirmed via a DNA match with a Hillhouse descendant.

A fuller story of the Margaret Cochrane above and several other Margarets, all related, is at http://www.nancyvada.me/the-five-margarets.

The Forgotten World Highway

After being museumed out at Hawera and a welcome early night it was off for Taumarunui via the Forgotten World Highway (FWH), a narrow twisty wonderland said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world – and also one of the most dangerous in NZ, 149 kilometres (92.58 miles) long, “built on colonial bridle paths formed in the late19th century, the highway is remote and mysterious to the extreme”…. “There’s some extraordinary scenery along here – some of the most unspoiled bush to be seen on any New Zealand roadside” … The road took 50 years to complete from the day it was begun until the day it was opened in 1945.

For more information see

Yielding one lovely vista after another, the FWH was thankfully surfaced up to Whangamomona but there was a long unsurfaced stretch after that. We met few other vehicles and only one motorcycle.

We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle, considered the start of the “back country”, with our last view of Mt. Taranaki and dairy farming land to the east. There were once plans to build a tunnel here. The winding road at times was like a tunnel through lush ferns and at other times offered views of long ripples of mountain ranges, all clad in deep green. It would be a different picture in winter time.

Halfway along we stopped at the famed Whangamomona Pub, enjoying a coffee while observed by a possum hanging from the “chandelier” (!).

Here is a map for motorcyclists which shows how dangerous the road is for them. And we were towing a large heavy caravan!

The Tahora Saddle came next – overlooking mountains, railway tunnels, and three Maori pa sites.

We caught occasional glimpses of the old railway line now the basis for the Twenty Tunnels” railcart adventure. We had thought to repeat this adventure of some eight years ago but the cost deterred us.

Some way further on we stopped to admire the 180 metre long single-lane Moki Tunnel with its cathedral roof. Also known s the Hobbit’s Hole, it was hand-carved with pickaxes.

We also broke the journey to inspect the grave of Joshua Morgan, an early surveyor who blazed the trail for the road through the Tangarakau Gorge, battling incredibly dense bush and mountainous country. His wife is buried there with him.

We finally reached Taumarunui and a welcome cup of tea with friends David and Marion who had looked after our mini foxie Penny when we were touring Australia some six years ago. David, the former Secretary of Clan Johnston/e in NZ, gave the new editor of the Clan’s magazine (me) some very useful information. then on to Otorohanga and another NZNCA camp for the night. Next day was cold and overcast so we decided to forego another visit to the famed NZ bird sanctuary and its white kiwis. Perhaps on our way back south?

Bypassing Hamilton, we arrived at the NZMCA camp at Ardmore Aerodrome near Papakura in good time. We will make our home here for a few days. The camp is now strictly dog-free after some incredibly errant member took his dog for a walk not only out of the restricted NZMCA area but right on the main runway a few years ago! The NZMCA was lucky to retain permission for the camp which is a very useful resting place for caravans and motorhomes on their way north before tackling the Auckland spaghetti jungle of main roads.

Unfortunately I managed to catch a gastro bug and need to lie low for a few days, but recovered enough to visit the Papakura Library with Dave and do some much-needed computer work.

Two corrections to earlier travel blog postings:

(First blog) we drove through the Waipara vineyards (thanks to Lesley, who was a little puzzled as to how we had apparently got so far north so quickly).

(Last blog) – we were welcomed to the Tawhiti Museum by a Moa, not just a disosaur!

After the Air show – and a Special Museum

(A continuation of our travel blog)

The ferry crossing (south to north island of New Zealand) was without incident, loading and departure on time, a calm sea and a ferry only half filled with people although chock full of vehicles. Rather a relief after all the bad news concerning the ferries in preceding weeks.

We spent the night at the Plimmerton NZMCA camp, arriving at dusk and slotting into almost the last available space. Next morning we went for a brief walk around the charming village – I was not aware we were so close to an arm of the sea.

We then headed for Palmerston North and a quick cuppa in Levin with long-time Caravanners Robin and Jenny, the “Romany Ramblers” whose blogs we have followed for years. On to Palmerston North and a former neighbour who was homesitting a property with assorted animals and one small dog, which together with Barb’s Jessie (our Tiki’s old playmate) and her newer kitten Maya suddenly filled our caravan with furry faces as they all came in to keep us company in the evenings while we played ‘Frustration’ for the first time since Barb left our neighbourhood.  

Above: Robin and Jenny; Below: Barb with Jessie and Maya (and the cards!)

But then it was time to move on, heading for more friends at Taumarunui via Marton and Wanganui. The Wanganui River was behaving this time, not like the last time we were there and the river flooded part of the city! We did not stop but headed for Hawera and a famous museum which Dave has long planned to visit. We stayed at yet another NZMCA camp at Marton in the (distant) shadow of Mt. Taranaki/Mt. Egmont.

The Tawhiti Museum is often described as one of the most innovative museums in NZ, using both life sized exhibits and scale models to capture the past in a series of dioramas. The detail is simply amazing. All the figures are designed and made on the premises. It is actually in several separate parts: the main museum, a separate section called Traders and Whalers, a Farm Power hall and a Bush Railway. Also a cafe. We experienced them all – it took all day.

A dinosaur welcomed us…..

Which one is real??

This huge model of the Turuturu Mokai Pa had infinite detail. Some of the tiny figures are only a centimetre tall.

The Bush Railway…

Just part of the huge Farm Power Hall (actually a whole series of halls)…

I have run out of time at the Papakura Library where I am attempting. to post this ..

52 Ancestors … Week 16.

Theme: “Should be a movie!”

My Irish Great Grandmother Margaret Prendergast led a very full life and at times a very hard one. The story of her life would surely make a wonderful movie, starting with a long ship voyage, her childhood in a remote Australian country town, marriage and city life in Melbourne, widowhood, remarriage to the son of a wealthy country squire, a comfortable outback country living which changed to an impoverished drought-stricken one, running a country hotel, constantly changing house in different small towns, finally settling in the city of Sydney with a large extended family and an occasionally visiting husband …

Born in 1844 in Tuam, Galway, Ireland, she was only ten years old when her family emigrated to Australia on the “Pestonjee Bomanjee”, arriving in Adelaide in 1854. Her father became a shopkeeper in a small country town in south-western NSW, not far from a large pastoral property owned by my Great Great Grandfather Thomas Darchy.

She married in Melbourne in 1866 aged 22, had two children and was widowed nine years later. The boy died aged 24 and the girl went to Scotland to her father’s relatives and stayed there.

Margaret remarried in 1879 when she was 35 and had four more children. This second marriage was to Frank Darchy, Thomas’ son, and was frowned upon by the wealthy Darchy family as she was of the wrong religion, daughter of a shopkeeper, and some years older than her new husband. But the marriage endured.

Initially they lived at “Cuthowarra”, an outback cattle station in the Wilcannia district (far north west NSW). Initially a prosperous area, it suffered greatly from a prolonged drought and rabbit plague, the river which was the lifeblood of the town dried up, and Frank, in partnership with one brother and another man, “…. spent their capital twice over wasting a considerable amount in an unsuccessful search for water…” They were forced to leave “Cuthowarra” and that was the end of a once-comfortable life for Margaret.

Frank took to a droving life and Margaret took over the license of a country hotel, the “Hibernian” in Hay NSW, in 1895-1897. Newspaper reports showed that she had quite a time with unruly visitors who left without paying; she had to appear in the local court several times as a witness to various misdemeanours, and once was issued a summons charging her with “ …detaining, without just cause, certain goods … she was ordered to return them to the complainant once he had paid her the amount owing. (The Riverine Grazier, Hay NSW, 2 July 1895 p.2).

Margaret and Frank moved around several country towns, then eventually to a large house in the city of Sydney in 1909 which was at various times shared with a number of other Prendergast and Darchy family members. The impression is that Margaret was the glue that held them all together – as shown in the photo. Her sons were, like their father, countrymen to the core, and her daughter married but was constantly thwarted in her desire to present Margaret with grandchildren. (But she did eventually end up with several via two of her sons).

Frank must have visited Margaret from time to time but was always very restless in the city and continued droving, particularly during the war years. All the Darchy cousins who enlisted, survived. Margaret died in Sydney in 1915 and Frank in 1925.

The Circumforaneous Gibbs resurrected.

(Although this blog is now mostly about my family history, in addition I am also going to use it for our travels for the next 2 months. It does not seem worthwhile to set up a completely separate blog for such a short time. Many readers, I know, originally subscribed for the travel not the history!))

The Circumforaneous Gibbs are on the road again. Finally! This may be the swansong of our Jayco caravan “T5” with us, but hopefully not our own Swansong.

Leaving both Georgie (18 year old Burmese) and Tiki (6 year old foxie) in the care of homesitters five days ago, we headed north, spending one night in a newish camp at The Store, Kekerengu – right on the beach.

It was beautiful sunny weather with signs of autumn just appearing in the roadside poplars. The Wairarapa vineyards were still draped in netting, in contrast to further north where grape harvesting has finished. Which meant many heavily-laden trucks full of loose grapes. Which meant when negotiating a particularly tricky turn at the southern end of the Dashwood Pass, a truck overturned … grapes everywhere … and the highway was closed for over 6 hours. Cars were diverted down a narrow twisty road but we, together with hundreds of caravans, motorhomes, lorries, a horse float and sundry other large vehicles were parked in two orderly lines covering the road (that’s us with the red ute). Nobody seemed to be complaining and little pockets of friendship sprung up. Horses were unloaded and grazed by the roadside. The truckie next to us happily accepted the offer of a cup of tea.

Finally on our way we made good time to the Omaka aerodrome and the special parking area reserved for members of the NZ Motorhome and Caravan Association (NZMCA). By sheer good luck we were directed to a level site very close to the gate to the airfield road, and in addition a shuttle service could pick us up at that gate and take us to the entrance proper – very welcome as our large and very comfortable deck chairs are heavy. Those chairs by the way were a prize at a Motorhome and Caravan Show several years ago, plus various other goodies AND in addition I won a separate prize, $1,000 worth of diesel!

The air show was awesome. After being postponed twice due to Covid, organisation was superb and the programme varied. I’m not aircraft-mad but I do enjoy watching those fantastic old WW1 planes flitting about, and the amazing aerobatics of the speedy little Yaks, a lone Pitts Special 6 which did corkscrews, the precision parachuting by the Air Force, and of course the incredibly precise Harvards flying in formation – all nine of them – my late father in law Squadron Leader Bill Hoffmann flew Harvards and the distinctive noise they make is one of the very few which I can recognise.

The usual War scenarios were played out with lots of pops and bangs and dramatic ‘deaths’, and ‘officers’ in a variety of uniforms rushed around looking puzzled. Always entertaining! The old warplanes zoomed around overhead and a huge rocket was dramatically demolished (photo by Dave).

There were a few new events, particularly on the first evening when, at the end of a practice day, there was a twilight visit by two witches and rocket-man, who also appeared alone the next two days – superman in a golden helmet with two jetpacks on his back, whizzing around with effortless ease. Oh to be able to fly like him! But apparently his landing was not quite so easy (!).

That first day finished with a fantastic fireworks display. For once I was glad we did not have Tiki with us – the first day or so away I was missing her, it felt strange walking around without her and not having to stop our journey every now and then for her to read her pee-mail, to borrow a phrase from her Facebook friend Charlie Browne.

So now we are holed up at the Blenheim Racecourse in company with a huge number of other motorhomes and caravans. NZMCA members have use of the area except of course on race days when everyone has to leave. We are parked right next to the track – which satisfies my penchant for wide open spaces. The racecourse is a curious mix of old buildings and new, with signs on some warning they are not earthquake-proof (and therefore don’t park too close…).

We are booked on the Cook Straits ferry two days hence. Will we make it? Both ferry companies have been having innumerable difficulties recently – mechanical failures, rough seas, etc – indeed we met one couple at Kekerengu who were two of three vehicles away from loading when they were told the crossing had been cancelled due to rough seas and they would have to rebook – and there were no vacant slots for at least a week. This doesn’t seem particularly fair. Luckily we do not have any must-make-it dates in the next few weeks.

52 Ancestors … Week 15.

The theme for this week is Solitude.

A recurring theme in my mother’s father’s family. My great grandfather Francis (Frank) Darchy was born in 1854 on an Australian outback sheep and cattle station to a wealthy grazing family. Together with his six brothers he attended an expensive private boys’ school in Melbourne. His family were famous for entertaining with “bumpers of champagne”. But the family’s sheep and cattle properties were mostly disbanded during the Depression of the 1880s and most of the brothers were forced to earn their own livings. Most took off for the loneliness and solitude of the Australian bush, the only life they knew. They became stockmen and later the more able became managers of cattle/sheep stations. Stockmen drove stock sometimes for thousands of miles across the Australian continent. The Australian Banjo Patterson’s poem ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ describes the life of a stockman beautifully.

Clancy of The Overflow [poem by Banjo Paterson]

Incidentally my grandfather worked at The Bulletin, where this poem was first published, and I went to school with a granddaughter of Banjo.

Initially Frank was an outback mailman, travelling between Dirranbandi, Camooweal and Anthony’s Lagoon – a particularly lonely job, spending weeks on horseback, leading a packhorse with perhaps a dog for company, going from one remote cattle station to another – covering hundreds of miles. His wife ran a boarding house in a country town. How often did he see her?

Two of Frank’s sons Dick (1882-1938) and Ted (1885-1947) fought in the First World War. Ted was badly gassed in France. Returning home, he also returned to the outback and the lonely life of a stockman. At the time of his death in 1947 he was working on the ironically named Gallipoli Station in the Northern Territory (he did not fight at Gallipoli but in France), maintaining one of the outer pump stations which were so essential for providing water from artesian wells for the stock. He spent his days alone, being supplied with food and smokes every few days. He died alone, coughing his heart out judging from the position in which he was found. In lonely solitude.