John Middlebrook was the 5th child, and second son of John and Ellen Middlebrook, who arrived in New Zealand on the Shalimar in 1862 with their surviving 7 children.
John became an extremely successful and highly respected man in Auckland and in Te Awamutu
Journalling on this layout is primarily by Johns Great Grandson, as told to me with some small additions by myself in italics
My knowledge of him , starts with his arrival on the the Shalimar in 1862 , his age on the shipping list at the time was given as 8 years, which I am sure you know. Auckland in 1862 was quite small , I have seen the perimeters of the town at that time and beyond Karangahape Road the housing ended , beyond there it was farmland with just the usual farmhouse here and there. Places like Onehunga, Otahuhu and Howick were separate villages.
We were told that he was an adventurer and we know that within his new country he travelled a bit. He visited the Pink and White Terraces, so he saw something that we missed out on. His father John, died in 1866 when he was just 12 years old. ( Although we know the Middlebrooks initially owned land in Northand and Whangarei, we do know that John’s father had opened a butchers shop in Victoria St West in Auckland not long before his death, but our first knowledge of Johns early employment comes from an article written at the time of his Golden Wedding Anniversary which says s a youth Mr. Middlebrook tried his prentice hand at printing, working for some time on the old "Southern Cross" (now incorporated in the "New Zealand Herald"and afterwards taking up the trade of a butcher)
We were told that he was an adventurer and we know that within his new country he travelled a bit. He visited the Pink and White Terraces, so he saw something that we missed out on. He married Mary Anne Tucker when they were both aged only 18 years. At some stage he commenced an apprenticeship with Mr. Hellaby as a butcher. Later Hellaby’s became something of an empire in the Butchery Business, with an abattoir and branch shops all around the Auckland area, but this was the early beginnings. I think things went reasonably well initially and when John and Maryanne were married they bought a small piece of land at Western Springs, obviously there was a dwelling and they had a cow and some hens. ( But in the 1880’s N. Z. had a “Depression”, which I understand was even more severe in our new country than the so called Great Depression (1928—33).
They were desperate times and everyone struggled to survive , in the end Mr. Hellaby approached John and said that sadly he could no longer afford the wages and that he would need to let John go. So he was paid off ! Surprisingly though John returned to work on the Monday as usual! Mr. Hellaby said to John “I paid you off!” But John responded that he would work without pay, that he had a cow and some hens and they had a roof over their heads. He suggested that maybe Mr. Hellaby could spare them a little meat from time to time and if and when business picked up, maybe then he could be re-instated.So they survived and later John was able to put some money together and leave the Hellaby business to buy a shop of his own in St Mary’s Bay Road in Auckland (Ponsonby)
(By this time John and Mary Anne had begun a family of their own- by 1883 they had 4 daughters and a son. Sadly while living at Western Springs, in 1883, John and Mary Anne lost their fourth daughter ,Ellen who died, aged 2 and a half. She was buried - probably with her maternal grandfather, at Symonds Street Cemetery)
John established a very good business and it flourished. My grandfather John T. recalled having to deliver meat in the mornings before school to various places (St. Mary’s Convent for one) a chore that he probably didn’t enjoy too much. Bear in mind that Butchery back then, was without refrigeration! Meat needed to be killed fresh every day, so you needed a farm close at hand to* graze stock prior to slaughter , an abattoir, as well as the shop premises , and of course you needed to attend stock sales very regularly in order to keep the meat supply coming in. So it was a big operation, but obviously a successful one. By the turn of the century Mr. Hellaby was establishing his empire and he approached his ex-employee and made a handsome offer to purchase John’s business. It probably wasn’t accepted initially, but naturally it would get John thinking and perhaps exploring the possibilities. Around 1901-2 he decided to purchase the business in Te Awamutu and the move was made down there in 1902.
By the turn of the 20th Century, John Middlebrook had a large and still growing family and had sold a successful butchery business in Ponsonby. He had travelled quite extensively within the North Island and had decided to move his family and business to Te Awamutu.
Bear in mind that Butchery back then, was without refrigeration! Meat needed to be killed fresh every day, so you needed a farm close at hand to graze stock prior to slaughter, an abattoir, as well as the shop premises, and of course you needed to attend stock sales very regularly in order to keep the meat supply coming in.
So it was a big operation, but obviously a successful one. When they first moved to Te Awamutu, the family lived above the shop, though some of the girls were married, and John Thompson stayed in Auckland doing his apprenticeship.
The railway link to Te Awamutu was quite an early one, which helped establish the town and surrounding area. John became an identity in the town and later served on council and all manner of other things. (He served on the Borough Council and the Cemetery and Domain Boards, was Vice President of the Municipal Band and a Director on the Waipa Post Board). John T. (my grandfather ) joined the business within a few years, He picked up the Maori language very well and in such a town in those times it brought a lot of custom.
I was told that Rewi Maniopoto was a customer in the very early days. The Maori customers used to bring official documents into the shop for my grandfather to interpret. (Interestingly John’s brother Samuel is also known for being fluent in the Maori language and also translated documents for local Maori, who “paid” him with various artifacts which are about to become the subject of a museum exhibition )
As I mentioned earlier John was always referred to as Honest John in Te Awamutu. Sale days in Te Awamutu were on a Thursday and most of the farmers would come into town to see their stock sold off, or to buy , or just because that was when they traditionally came in to shop. It was established that the stock auction would not start until John Middlebrook had arrived . Mind you, logically he was a vital customer, without his bidding true values were unlikely to be reached I am told also that he was seldom late.
With the advent of electricity things were about to change drastically in the butchery business and so John Middlebrook expanded his business once again.
As you will have noticed in the photo of the new shop he is absent , he still did try to help from time to time but arthritis made it very painful to do the simple things like wrapping meat. Of course he no longer needed to anyway, but he enjoyed the customer contact. Of course the new shop was built because electricity now made refrigeration possible and it opened up a new era for butcheries. It was impossible to alter the old shop to accommodate the new chiller and refrigerated display areas