Sunday, July 27, 2014

McRae Letters Part 4



Opua December 14th  1887

Dear Welsh,
I received your letter last week but had not time to answer it for I did not get it out of the Office until Thursday morning. I hope I have not troubled you too  much in asking you to get the calico. If I have, do not get it. I was going to trouble you further in getting a little fruit , for we can not get any down here and I should like to get some for the children at Christmas.
They are all talking about hanging their stockings up. Amy sends her love and she hopes you are enjoying yourself in town.
She also wishes you would come down, but I suppose it is no use to ask you to come to such a dull place as this. Roddy wishes to be remembered to you. I have not sent him to Kawakawa. Mrs Harris says it is too near Christmas for him to go now, but I shall see about him going after.  But I must come to a close for I do not feel inclined to write much and I have two other letters to write, and I am sure they will be short. Things are very dull here but we must live in hope if we die in dispare. (sic)
If things are not better, I shall have to leave Mother in charge and see if I cannot get a situation as a Housekeeper or somethign else to do. Trusting you are well, I remain
Yours sincerely,

P.S. The Norvel and Saxon will be going to town this week - and both of them will be down before Christmas


From Jane to Welsh, 14 December 1887

This letter from Jane to Welsh ( and the first one we have from Jane) could be in reply to his letter of 21st November but I suspec t it is a later letter that we do not have a copy of . Once more though there is much talk of the desire of both Jane and Welsh to be together.
It is clear in this letter that Jane is not in a great financial situation . We assume she is running a boarding house as this seems to have been her main form of income through most of her life. It sounds as if there isn’t much business just prior to Christmas

“Roddy” refers to John Roderick McRae , Jane’s eldest son. Born in 1871 he was 16 years old at the time of this letter and one would assume Jane was keen for him to be out working to help support the family


Dear Welsh,
We received your letter last week and all the goods all in good order and we are much obliged. I also let Amy read your letter and what she could not make out , I read for her. I told her to write today but she did not, but she is such a poor writer that makes her not like to write. But I am not a very good scholar myself so I should not say much about any one, eh!  Amy and I are very glad you are so comfortable. It is a nice part of town that you live in, not too thickly built on.
I must now thank you for the things you sent. The calico is very good. It was for Amy and she is much pleased with it and all the other good things. I do not think they would have got much if you had not sent them for I had the misfortune of braking(sic) the clock and had to get a new one for we could not do without the time in a place like this. I am glad that you have the prospect of such a merry Christmas.  The town will be quite lively, but we shall be quieter than usual, for the people are all going to town ( that can afford it); but it is getting very late. I had some work to finish and send home first thing in the morning so I had to finish it tonight, but I will add a few more lines in the morning. I have had a very bad head ache all day, in fact I am hardly ever free from it.
Thursday morning, and a beautiful morning . The Bay is so pretty.. there are a lot of boats about with their white sails set. I trust we shall have Hector over for Christmas Day. We are all going out the day after to a picnic party ad a place called Wapau, a very pretty place.
You say in your letter that you wish we were with you, so I can say in return that I wish you were with us. I wish we could do anything for you to help to pay for your kindness. Amy sends her love and wishes you a merry Christmas. She says you promised to come back, but she will write next week. With the complements of the season, I must now close, I remain
Yours Truly
Jane McRae

From Jane to Welsh, 20 Dec 1887

It is clear from this letter from Jane to Welsh ( replying to a letter we unfortunately dont have a copy of) that he has sent the “fixings for Christmas” he referred to in a previous letter. . Again we get a clear impression that financially things are not great for Jane. Replacing a broken clock ( which could be a considerable expense in the 19th century) used up much of the money she would have spent on the family Christmas .
Jane’s mention of having Hector over is another indication of that relationship growing but it was to be another 3 years until she married him.

I have not been able to find out where “Wapau” might be. We could assume it is relatively close to Opua, a day trip or less by boat or by road as they were headed there for a picnic

A Man of the Sea - Benjamin Middlebrook 1850-1928



Todays layout features Benjamin Middlebrook who is the eldest son of John and Ellen Middlebrook, and the one I have no immediate contacts for – in fact I havent yet traced a single living descendant of Benjamin’s which I find quite sad.

Thankfully John Middlebrook in Sydney posesses quite a few photos of Benjamin and some of his family and also has the wonderful little Engineers Tables Notebook written in by Benjamin himself.




The eldest son of John and Ellen Middlebrook, Named after his maternal Grandfather, Benjamin was born on March 21st 1850 in Millbridge Yorkshire, where his father  was an Innkeeper. He was, however baptiised in the home town of his mother Ellen, Pontefract Yorkshire, in the church of St Giles . on April 28.
Little is known of his childhood, but by age 12, along with the rest of his family, he boarded the ship “Shalimar” in Liverpool to make the long journey to a new land and a new life in New Zealand. 

It appears this voyage was most formative in his life, perhaps developing a love for the sea, as Benjamin became a ships engineer, spending the bulk of his life on the sea .
His name does not appear on the NZ electoral rolls at any time, so one would assume he left home at an early age. We find him first in 1873 departing from Manukau for Sydney on board the vessel Phoebe, aged 23, 3rd Engineer. Benjamin appears to be involved in the route between Australia and New Zealand for several years, and on one of these voyages perhaps he met his future wife Alice Lane.  He returned to New Zealand in 1875 to marry her, but they made their home in Sydney, living in Balmain by 1880 and later in Lakemba NSW.  He gained his 2nd engineers certificate ( number 36) in Sydney in 1876 . In 1878 he joined the crew of the “City of Newcastle” in early September 1878 and was unfortunate to be on board and on duty  when the ship  ran aground.
He remained a man of the sea though, joining the crew of the “Esk” which plied the waters  between Sydney and Tasmania .

Ben and Alice had 3 children, Sarah, Mary Ellen and John Farrer . Mary Ellen was known to have visited her New Zealand relatives on more than one occasion and was fond of her uncle John Middlebrook
Son, John, followed his father into Engineering, serving as an apprentice at Cockatoo Island, but didnt continue in the trade, instead he followed his artistic side, like many members of the Middlebrook family he had a love for music and he earned a living as a pianist.
Throughout his life, Benjamin, like some of his brothers, was an active member of Masonic Lodge.
Benjamin died on 11 August 1928 aged 78, of a stroke and is buried  at the Field of Mars Cemetery, North Ryde,New South Wales,
Plot: Portion: Ang Section: Sec K Plot: 200

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The McRae letters–continued



This is the third letter in the batch of letters between Jane and Welsh McRae.



Auckland 21st Nov1887

Dear Jane
Yours of the 17th to hand, also one each from Amy and Nellie. Contents of all three individually noted, Will answer collectively only question perpounded. (Viz.”” When will you return to Opua”). Cannot tell..future.. in that direction: a dead wall of uncertainty... without a break to hang a hope on. Inclination directs me that way.. Prudence cries “Keep back” Let Prudence be obeyed!
Sorry you misconstrued my meaning re moral training of girls. Please read sentence considerately again. You will doubtless discover the true interpretation of it. No reflection indented, I do assure you. It would be criminal to insinuate , in the way you put it, on so limited an acquaintance. Moreover, I esteem you too highly for that.
Would be happy to advise you re lease of land to Jim. But knowledge of your business and domestic relations too circumscribed to draw upon. Would counsel guidance of your own judgment in the matter. No one can be better posted than yourself.
I note your remarks on the young lady.. she is altogether too youthful for me. I am in dead earnest on this matter of matrimony and would like if you could name a suitable person, equally in earnest, willing to open a correspondence right away and exchange photos. She must not be under thirty or over forty, moderately good looking, tolerably plump, to make amends for my “leanness”. Education not so much an object as disposition..’country’ rather than ‘city’ birth preferred. That’s my  style!  There are hundreds around qualified to fill this bill. I pass them on the streets every day. If they, dear creatures, were aware of the existence of the bait, the rest would be easy of accomplishment. They would take hold as leeches to a blood vessel. My bachelorhood would be a busted bubble and my matrimonial existence a stern reality.
But enough! I trust you received the goods in the same order as sent. The wicker casing of the tea would have made you a pretty lunch basket if it reached you safely. Two letters to hand to date. I thought you said there were three, Hectors address is Hokaikau, Bay of Islands. Forgot to enclose it last mail, though I had written it out.
Remember me to Amy and Nellie, I was a little disappointed in their letters, but happy to receive them, nevertheless, especially Amy’s . Will always be pleased to hear from them. I would reply separately but as this is a triple combination for you and them please let them read , if they are so minded. And oblige.

Yours very sincerely

P.S.  I will send along some grocery fixings for your Christmas, if you will let me know your needs in that respect. They will go by the “Norval” (if convenient). I lost track of her last trip.
I witnessed the funeral of Colonel Lyons yesterday, conducted in military style. A very imposing affair, Streets crammed with struggling humanity, eager to observe and be observed. He expired very suddenly in his bath from disease of the heart.


Unfortunately we don't have a copy of the letter from Jane that Welsh  refers to. If we did it may answer some of the more pressing questions we have regarding Jane and her relationship with the father of her children.
It would also be interesting to see what inference Jane too regarding the  upbringing of her daughters. Clearly she took some offence to Welsh’s comments in the previous letter regarding their moral “downgrading” .

One of the most interesting points in this letter from Welsh is the reference to Jane enquiring about his opinion of her “leasing land to Jim”.  One would assume  she is referring to James John McRae, her estranged “husband” , however it could mean her brother James Thompson  Middlebrook.
Either way, it would be wonderful to know what land she thought about leasing him and where it was, and moreover  how she had come into this land as she appears not to be particularly wealthy at this time in her life.

It seems Welsh had quite a high opinion of himself as a marriage suitor, and this was quite likely a relatively legitimate view. He clearly was a man of quite independent means, and was kind and generous ( at least toward his sister in law and his nieces.  He was 58 years old at the time of this letter, and as far as we know had never married.  In fact he never did find himself a wife, dying a bachelor only 5 years after these letters were written

The Colonel Lyons, that Welsh refers to in his postscript was actually Colonel William Lyon, an Imperial veteran, who commanded the Constabulary and Volunteer forces in the Waikato, with headquarters at Cambridge,in the 1870’s , and was in charge of the Auckland Volunteer District, 1884until his death in 1887. He began his soldiering career as an officer of the Coldstream Guards, and exchanged into the 92nd Highlanders, serving with that regiment for ten months in the Crimea. He lost an arm through a shooting accident in England, and left the Army to settle in New Zealand. When the Waikato War began he was appointed to the New Zealand forces, and served throughout that campaign and afterwards in the wars on the West and East Coasts. He was second in command under Colonel Whitmore in the final campaign against Titokowaru in 1869.