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.

52 Ancestors …. Week 14 (Apr. 2-8)

This week’s theme: Begins With a Vowel. I’ve chosen two A’s, with links to an I.

My paternal Great Grandmother Adela Campbell Scott Macloskey was born in 1848 in Greenock, Scotland, the last-but-one of 14 children of John Macloskey and Mary Ann Brooks. She was only six years old when the family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia where father John, a successful merchant and tailor, died three months later of dysentery.

When Adela was just eighteen she married Dubliner Frederick Wentworth Wade, an up and coming young accountant, later to become a solicitor and barrister and one of Invercargill’s founding fathers, on 29 August 1865 in Invercargill, New Zealand. Was it with her parents’ blessing? What was she doing in New Zealand?

It is curious about Invercargill. Close to the southernmost tip of mainland New Zealand, five separate Macloskey wives married there, yet none were born there. Two of the elder Macloskey girls journeyed to NZ in 1860; one of them married in December 1861, the other six months later. Adela’s future husband also arrived in Invercargill that year. Perhaps he had met the Macloskey family earlier in Melbourne, or met the married sisters in Invercargill. Then Adela visited her sisters …

Adela and Frederick had six children in the space of nine years. When the youngest, my grandmother Bertha was six months old her mother took her to Melbourne presumably to meet her extended family, and Adela died there of pthisis (TB) aged 26.

It is not known how Bertha was returned to her father in Invercargill, but just two years later Frederick married again, in Melbourne – Adela’s niece Ada Gresham Macloskey, aged 19, who became mother to five children aged between three and 11, and then two years later had one of her own – Florence Ada “Fonna” – six children to manage when she was still only 21!

A fuller story of the Macloskey Wives of Invercargill is at

52 Ancestors …. Week 13.

This week’s theme is Light A Candle.

Light a candle in memory of …. whom? Just about any and all my ancestors … No, no, that would be rather too many (!)

So I chose to interpret the theme as something which any one of my Great Grandparents would most likely have said many, many times in those pre-electricity days. Something which we say occasionally even now when wanting to create a romantic atmosphere … or perhaps when the mosquitoes and sandflies become annoying.

Consulting Mrs. Google:
“Artificial light in the 1800s changed concepts of time, work, leisure activities, and consumption. Lighting systems shifted from candles, to whale and other oils, to coal gas…The first electric light used in a home in England was in Swan’s electrical workshop in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1881.”

And .. “Before gas or electric lighting were invented, the greatest light source indoors usually came from the fixed fire in the grate. Home activities revolved around the hearth, with candlelight or oil lamps providing dim (but mobile) light around the home. Move an arm’s length from the candle, however, and you couldn’t read, draw or mend.”

And …“While the rich used candles (probably made from beeswax or spermaceti wax extracted from the head of the sperm whale), others were not so fortunate. The less wealthy commonly lit their houses with stinking, smoky, dripping tallow candles which gave out very little light. The poor mostly used even feebler and fast-burning rushlights, usually dipped in smelly animal fat. The average 40cm rushlight only burned for about an hour. “

So what did my Great Grandparents use? Fortunately most of them came from homes where their father had a trade or profession – my paternal GGGFs were a shoemaker, a schoolteacher, a doctor, a merchant tailor, a shopkeeper, another schoolteacher, a Welsh farmer and one mysterious very wealthy young man who turned up in Australia in 1840 and became a grazier (wealthy land and stock owner). Apart from the Welsh farmer, all would have received a regular income and most likely have been able to afford reasonable candles which burnt for long hours.

Nowadays we just flick a switch, or when there is a power outage use a generator or resort to battery-fed torches or LEDlights. I wonder what my ancestors would think of me in our modern caravan with lights fed by solar panels, and bottled gas to cook by. Come to think of it we do still carry candles – the small round insect-repelling sort.

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks – Week 12.

Theme for this week: Membership.

My first foray into genealogical research in the 1990s was at a local Family History society where I was amazed at the number of old records still existing (or so I thought), but when computers and then the internet and email became available the scope exploded. Eventually I discovered e-mail lists and the Rootsweb lists in particular, wonderful international communities of like-minded people all focussed on a particular area or subject, eager to help with research enquiries, happy to discuss theories, and keen to gossip about aspects of life within those areas. The Lanark-List in particular – and best of all Membership was free. The only limit on the number of Lists I could join was the amount of time I had available. This was of course before Ancestry and MyHeritage and ScotlandsPeople, when parish registers and Census records were difficult to access unless one went to the local LDS Centre or joined a family history society. I shall never forget the camaraderie of those early Rootsweb lists, and also of a private group for people with cochlear implants – which eventually led to me meeting my husband – but that is another story.

52 Ancestors ….. Week 11.

The theme for this week is LUCKY.

My Great Uncle George Johnston 1855-1885 was born in Launceston, Tasmania a few weeks after his Glasgow-born emigrant parents arrived on the “Storm Cloud” in 1855 after a voyage of 71 days through the stormiest seas in the world. Perhaps that is why the sea fascinated him. He became a merchant sailor at an early age, the first seaman in the extended Johnston family for generations. He spent many years on cargo and passenger boats, both sail and stream, plying between the Far East, the UK, The Americas, New Zealand and Australia.

George loved his family and wrote frequent letters home, of which about 20 survive. In January 1877 he was visiting his uncle and family in London and wrote of a walk to the docks with his cousin and how he was lucky to secure a late berth on the 3-masted “Loch Ard”. He was still on that boat in November 1877 from Shanghai en route to Sydney then going on to Twatow and Amoy, and wrote of how they were lucky to evade a typhoon and how “the other ship which I at one time thought of shipping in came up 4 days ago with her topgallant masts gone – she lost them in a typhoon.”

Again luck favoured him and he did not remain on the “Loch Ard” much longer, as seven months later she was wrecked off Cape Otway on a voyage from London to Melbourne with the loss of 52 lives in a total of 54 passengers and crew.

George obtained his First Mate’s ticket on 25 October 1883 in London. Perhaps he decided then that he was tired of sailing the world and wanted to be closer to home and his family. He signed on with the SS “Cahors”, a new powerful screw steamer which carried about 200 passengers and cargo between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, making several record-breaking runs. In 1884 George became the Second Officer.

His family in Tasmania were doubtless happy to know he was relatively closer to home and no longer subject to the perils of the open sea.

But on 10 June 1885 George’s luck ran out. The “Cahors” ran onto a reef just 13 miles out of land, in a relatively calm sea. As reported in the Launceston Daily Telegraph some months later:

“ Mr. Johnston and the crew worked all night, aiding the passengers, who were at last transhipped to the steamer “Burwah” and landed safely. He was lightly clad in his under-clothing, wet and exhausted from over-exertion, but he went ashore in charge of the mails, which he landed safely at Clarence Head, and remained there during the night. Next day, the 12th of June, he was going back in a launch to the captain and part of the crew who remained in charge of the wreck, when a heavy sea struck the launch and she nearly foundered. Mr. Johnston was washed overboard, and as the launch could not be brought to or turned, he perished in sight of those who admired his gallantry and unselfish labours to save others, and who were most anxious to rescue him. The launch had, in fact, put out contrary to law, as the danger flag was flying at Clarence Head at the time.”

Photo: It is thought that the young man sitting in the foreground was George Johnston.

A fuller version of George’s story is at

52 Ancestors – Week 10.

This week’s theme is ‘Translation’.

I have a mysterious Great great grandfather named Thomas Darchy who was born in Augsburg, Bavaria in 1820 but lived the first eleven or so years of his life with a Prussian-born guardian in Neuchatel, Switzlerland. When he was aged 10 the guardian received a letter from someone apparently connected with Thomas’ mother’s family, saying the boy was to be collected and taken …. where? The guardian was most upset and drafted a reply in archaic French – not his native language – full of crossed-out words and other words added above and below – and by the greatest good fortune that draft has been was found in the Neuchatel archives, along with some other legal papers.

Over the years several translations have been made by a variety of people, including me using an on-line translator. Not all agree. The general consensus is that the distraught guardian wrote, in part:

“And what do you want to do with him? Send him to boarding school? Or in other words, abandon him, because you do not want to look after him and his mother will continue to watch him from a distance at her pleasure”. … “Regarding the rest, I do not understand how Madam L. was able so easily to consent to this arrangement, which is precisely the opposite of what she told me two years ago in Geneva, when she seemed to fear his presence in England (deleted…. and assured me she wanted to leave him here for better hiding him). She said in her own words that he would never know his mother and that the mother’s family would forever ignore his existence. She told me her final wish for her son, and she gave me her express wish, to raise him entirely as Swiss.” … “ I would like to remind you that this child is here under the protection of the government and that I am his guarantor…”

“ Personally, I am deeply worried about the consequences that this change will have for my dear child, for who shall he count on in the future. On you? Alas! You live with 200-300 livres of him, you are married, a public servant. (deleted …and you have no interest to see him prosper and to make his way). Or his mother? Much less than on you, because she doesn’t want him and as she says, she cannot look after him. Thus, he will be abandoned and alone, continually in boarding schools and he will become what he can.”

We do not know for certain what happened during the next ten years, but in 1840 Thomas turned up on a ship in Australian waters, a wealthy young man aged just 20. He went on to found an Australian grazing empire – at one stage the family owned or leased vast tracts of sheep and cattle pasturage. Sadly much was lost in the depression of the 1890s. Most of his sons including my own great grandfather became drovers. One became an outback postman.

But nobody has ever managed to discover just who he was!! We have a baptismal certificate from Augsburg but it is suspected that his parents’ names were falsified. Family stories abound – he was the illegitimate son of a French noblewoman emigree and a Scottish nobleman, or a Prussian princess, or an Englishwoman who was one of George IV’s mistresses …. So the draft letter in the Neuchatel archives is important since it mentions his mother but does not of course give her name apart from referring to her as “Madame L”.

A much fuller account of Thomas’ early years is at

52 Ancestors – Week Nine.

The theme for this week is Gone Too Soon.

My maternal grandmother Lily Hunt was the tenth and last child of school teachers Edwin Hunt and Margaret Morgan who married in Reading, Berkshire in 1862. The seventh and ninth children, unfortunately, did not survive early childhood. The ninth only survived a few months, but the seventh lived for two years and her death was never forgotten, even in such a straight-laced Victorian family, and my Aunt Betty remembered hearing about her in the 1930s.

Alice Katherine Hunt, known as “Eulalie” or “Little Lallie”, was a real Christmas present, a much-loved child born on 25 December 1870 in Reading. She died two months before her third birthday. I do not know the cause of her death.

My aunt passed on to me a lovely little Memento Mori, a brooch of amethyst and seed pearls containing a lock of golden hair and inscribed on the back EH.