Sunday, April 13, 2014

Middlebrook Reunion Newsletter–Tuesday 8th April 2014



Jane Thompson Middlebrook
Weve had some confusion and mystery  regarding Jane Thompson Middlebrook, the eldest child of John and Ellen. Of all the children who survived to adulthood, she is the one who's life probably carries the most intrigue.
Certainly, of all the children, we have the fewest photos of her, and to this point we have discovered none of her as a young woman.
In an early newsletter we posted a picture we thought was Jane with another elderly woman but we think perhaps it was not her . Until yesterday we only had one confirmed photo of her and that was one with her brother John as shown here. It appears the earlier photo we thought was Jane may not be her at all.

Yesterday, however, after going through some old photos with Judith Anderson, a Great Granddaughter of Jane found this photo below which  by a matter of elimination we have decided is definitely Jane.
Jane's early life is a great mystery.
She apparently married a James John McRa ( also sometimes spelled McRae and Macrae ) who was a Scotsman from Tasmania
He was part of a family of brothers who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s from their home in Tasmania.
James was 22 years older than Jane which is a little unusual in itself, but one can imagine with her father having died in 1866 it was probably pretty urgent that Ellen get her daughters married fairly quickly to make life a little easier.
In the book Macraes to New Zealand by Molly Akers, it is stated that Jane married James twice - Once on 18 May 1868 in Auckland, and once on July 29th 1869 in Tahiti.
There is no official record of either marriage that we have found despite extensive searching. Thats not to say however that it didnt happen.
Whether either marriage happened, what did happen is that Jane and James had 8 children between 1869 and 1885.
Interestingly there is no birth record for the first 2 children, Amelia ( Amy) and Ellen Margaret ( Nellie) .
Amy's marriage certificate ( in 1902 to Patrick Fennell)  states she was born in Tarau Creek Thames in 1869 ( which casts doubt on that marriage in July of that year in Tahiti)
Amy died in 1917 at the age of 48 and is buried in Waikumete Cemetery Plot : WESLEY DIVISION B Row 7, Plot 23X
Nellie is even more of a mystery. No birth record, and No death record. It is as if she never existed, but we know she did from letters written between Jane and her brother in law.
The remaining 6 children are far less mysterious - each having a birth, marriage and death record with New Zealand Births Deaths and Marriages.
There are stories that Jane Thompson (Middlebrook) MacRae owned boarding houses all over New Zealand and in Fiji. We certainly  have evidence she did own a boarding house in Arkles bay in 1915, where Ellen Middlebrook died.
In the "Local Matters" newsletter of Gulf Harbour a story about an early resident of Whangaparaoa says
"The family stayed in a boarding house on the main road above Arkles Bay for the night when they came from Auckland by steamer to look at the land. Jack’s mother Emily speared a small eel with her hatpin at Arkles Bay wharf after it had been attracted to the surface for food.  Jack’s father skinned it on a post and the owner of the boarding house, Mrs McCray fried the eel for them for breakfast. The McCray’s house stood on the main road by the Arkles Bay Road intersection. "
One can only assume that the Mrs McCray was in fact our Jane Thompson MacRae .

Despite her marriage to James John McRae, with whom she must have been living until at least 1885 for the birth of her last child Robert Irwin, by 1889 it appears the couple are no longer together.
There is no mention of him in Janes letters to his brother Welsh, in fact it appears that Jane may indeed be looking for male companionship in some of her letters.
The 1890 electoral roll sees James John in Helensville and he lives there until 1894 when he dies ( after slipping on the wharf and hitting his head on the Steamer Osprey).
A rather sad ending, his death certificate lists no known family.
Meanwhile, Jane is living in Opua .As I mentioned there is a regular correspondence between Jane and James' brother Welsh who is apparently in Auckland.  It appears he is watching over his sister in law and making sure her needs are taken care of by sending packages of food and fabric . In his letter of 14th November 1887 he states " In reply, will say, am pleased that you received beef in good condition. Sorry bacon proved fraud.  Will forward some "Canterbury" this trip..tested and proved bood. Also chest tea of undoubted quality from a Mongolian importers in Quay Street. Will send along ( at some future time) fixings for Christmas. Information of needs in this respect acquired beforehand."
Later in this letter ( obviously as a reponse to Jane asking him to come for Christmas) he states " Your complaint of feeling longly in the bosom of your "cheerful family" doth considerably surprise and grieve me. And if I might hazard the remark that my presence would aid in mitigating it, I would be most happy to give you a prolonged trial of it. And notwithstanding my taciturn and uncommunicative disposition, the result might justify experiment.  But unfortunately, I cannot even promise that Christmas will bring us nearer to each other, as city pastimes ( at this season )are too attractiveto be exchanged for the country.  Notwithstanding the coveted companionship of you and your worth family, and the unremitting and unmerited kindness that ( I am certain) would be awarded me. But as I am sending along my good brother Hector's address. I am hopeful you may secure his presence during the holidays. He is better qualified, by nature and art ( than I am) to impart tone and zest to social gatherings, no matter for what purpose assembled.. eating, drinking, dancing, singing. What you please... in the house or out if it Tis all one to him."
This introduction is to be lifechanging for Jane as on 27 December 1890  she marries Hector ( yes if you will notice that James is still alive at this time in Helensville- yet her marriage certificate states she is a spinster.
Jane appears to remain in Opua through the 1890s, but by 1898 she is living in Auckland at Cobden Street - a residence that is owned by her mother Ellen. Later she is listed in Eden Crescent, but is back at Cobden Street in 1904 .
At  some point between 1906 and 1911 it seems she goes back to the Bay of Islands because we have this photo postcard sent to her granddaugther Olive

This house sits at the very end of the beachfront at Russell, and is in fact still standing ( though much renovated and enlarged.
I believe this is Jane standing outside with 2 of her granddaugthers.
It is understood the grandchildren would be sent to stay with their Grandmother, having been sent via the Steamer "Clansman" which plied the waters between Auckland and the Bay of Islands.
Its possible Jane ran this house as a boarding house however we have no evidence of this to date. Much research is still required.
Soon after this photo was taken, it appears Jane moved to run the Arkles Bay Boarding house where she was until at least 1920 according to the Electoral Rolls.
By 1930 she was domiciled at 20 Kiwi Road Devonport ( shown below)  ( however she also owned a property at Owens Road Devonport that her daughter Jane Elizabeth Simpson and her family lived in for a time)

Jane died in 1935 aged 86. A long and very interesting life that still is shrouded in mystery.
We would love to be able to solve some of those mysteries before the reunion.


In Katikati, Lauren was gifted a large number of albums and photographs that had belonged to Bess Middlebrook ( Elizabeth Alice Middlebrook) youngest daugther of Samuel Middlebrook. This woman appears in many of the photos in one of the albums. The photos in this album appear to date from around the beginning of WW1 . They are not studio photos, and many are faded beyond recognition but there are some great images amongst them
This woman appears in a great number of the photographs in the album. Does anyone recognise her?

Remember to fill in a Family Group Sheet Form here if you havent already

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