Passing time with Eris Parker

Author Archives: Eris Parker

Beech – Barrett Coat of Arms

The annual Family History month in New Zealand is August. But genealogists know that every month is family history month.
It’s the thrill of the chase of finding an ancestor living, working and playing. What a bonus if they wrote a Will, or a letter to the Editor, or went to Court.

From photos we see our great greats looking sternly at us, perfectly groomed and not a hair out of place. But having a photo taken was a great event.

How did great grandmother survive doing all the washing by hand? Then down on her knees scrubbing the floor and keeping the coal range clean? Singing as she did it.

My grandma would not have a steam iron. “Who needs those new fangled things? This one works perfectly.” I say the same to my grandchildren today when they think I need a new computer, TV or telephone.


There is no sign in the Cambridge, New Zealand Cemetery at Hautapu where Elizabeth Carroll was buried in 1899.

Cambridge Cemetery

On 15 May 1899 William Carroll, the publican of the Masonic Hotel, while in a drunken state beat and kicked his wife to such an extent as to cause injuries resulting in her death on 2 June 1899. Constable Timothy Cahill had been called to the hotel on the 15th and helped Mrs Carroll – her face swollen, bruised and bleeding, up the stairs to her room.  He said he had not arrested Carroll as he thought it was only an ordinary row between man and his wife.

A witness said later – ‘After the constable left the hotel there was a disturbance in the bedroom as if they were having a row, and there was a noise as if some heavy person had fallen on the floor.’ From 15 May to the date of her death Mrs Carroll never came downstairs.

The nurse girl Minnie Johansen – went into Mrs Carroll’s room to get the baby who was crying, and while she was there Mr Carroll struck his wife who was lying on the bed. Mrs Carroll’s face was smothered with blood and the left side of it was swollen. The next morning Mrs Carroll could not see out of her left eye.

The constable returned to the hotel but was told ‘matters were all right’. He visited Mrs Carroll a few days later and she appeared annoyed that the matter was being talked about so much. It was only after a doctor had been called that Constable Cahill on 29 May, laid an information against Carroll for grievous bodily harm.

He was convicted in the Supreme Court in Auckland of manslaughter and served ten years in prison.

“Mum, I’m going to the beach, can you mind Duke?”

“Ahh but he stinks,” I answer, “Why can’t you take him?”

“Because he stinks!”

Billy T James’ House

We rise early and I check my emails. The Duke sits and just stares at me. After a while he starts sighing, so we head to the Agility Park and off he bounds.

In the next door paddock, now an empty space, was the house where Billy T James spent some of his youth. It was a small square cottage, on the corner of Bracken and Shelley Streets, Leamington, New Zealand, outside the green belt, towards the Council Depot.

Originally this house belonged to the Cambridge Borough Council and was used by the worker of the old Municipal Boiling Down Works. More recently it was rented out until Waipa District Council re-evaluated its rental obligations and burnt the house down.

A walk down the west end of Alpha Street in Cambridge New Zealand, brings you to the Gaslight Theatre. The old municipal gasworks from 1907 – 1954.

The Cambridge borough kept the buildings as a depot and the expanse of land was leased to Courtney’s Sawmill.  Jack, Charlie and George Courtney owned and ran their mill from 1959 – 1976.

Prior to that they had worked at, and then bought Newmack Ltd’s sawmill in King Street. They changed the machines from petrol to diesel and for ten years they milled timber exclusively for the local building firm Speight Pearce Nicoll Davys.

After the move to Alpha Street they changed to electricity and concentrated mainly on native timbers. Their main outlet then was to Auckland as well as the local market.

At one stage sawdust was heaped nearby but it was later used by farmers to cover ensilage stacks and commercial gardeners used it for weed control.
There was always plenty of firewood for locals.

  While cross referencing headstones and a Leamington (New Zealand) cemetery burial map I found four World War One soldiers without headstones. The Year of the Veteran in 2006 was the ideal opportunity to get government funding of $2000 to put this matter to rights.

 Fred Keeley died 1 July 1950, Gerald Murtagh died 14 March 1951, Don McKinnon died 23 August 1952, Bert Higgins died 4 August 1956.

  With the help of Waipa District Council’s sexton Dean Signal and cemetery staff, I was able to have these headstones lain with the soldiers, near the Colonial Soldiers’ Memorial at the far end of the cemetery. Waikato Stonecraft Ltd trimmed the bottoms of the stones as we laid them flat, in keeping with the headstone of L.N. McKinnon already in situ.

  Descendents of all the families rallied for the unveiling as they were thrilled to have found their relatives’ lost plots and to have them recognised.

The Returned Services Association helped with the formalities and Rev. Geoff Crawshaw performed the blessing.

Walking along Victoria Street, outside the former Cambridge Post Office, in New Zealand, we see a surveyors’ old chain measure. Two brass plaques with an arrow on each – one chain apart.

In Queen Street there were two more square brass discs set in concrete.

Chain Chain Measure

They were similar to the Post Office ones, but without the arrows. One is a chain from the Bryce Street corner, then 5 chain along Queen Street is another one. Perhaps we had two sets? Or were the two with the arrows, now outside the Post Office, originally in Queen Street?

They are very similar to the Chain Mark outside the old Government Buildings in Wellington which has a notice to say they were laid down in 1879 to set the Land Survey Standard throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Historic Places magazine of 1991 says that – ‘Nelson’s five chain test base was laid in 1877 and ran across Albion Square.’ This sounds similar to our Queen Street set.

A chain measure at Wanganui is registered as a Category 1 historic place by the NZ Historic Places Trust and I believe there is another in the courtyard of the Provincial Government Buildings in Christchurch.

Agility Park

The Duke bounds out of the car, rearing to go. There are wooden structures lined up to test the dogs’ agility. A hurdle, an ‘A’ frame, parallel bars, posts to weave between. The Duke lifts his leg and does what many dogs do on such structures. 

The park is a wide expanse of grass, diligently mowed by the Waipa District Council mowers. There is a very steep descent to a very green pond at the bottom of a gully. It’s securely bound by a two metre high wire fence. This storm water pond discharges into the swamp in the nearby gully.

As we head down the hill there is the sound of tuis in the bush. Fantails flit beside us and swallows swoop above.


Under our feet, below a layer of dirt, is a rubbish dump. For forty years, from 1959 to 1999 trailer loads of household, garden and commercial rubbish were tipped over the bank. When it was full it was covered with clay and topsoil, sown into pasture and left to settle. Leachate is now collected and pumped into the sewerage reticulation.

Waipa District Council opened the Agility Park for exercising dogs in 2006.
The Duke does his business as dogs do, and there is the green ‘doggy do’ receptacle – but remember to bring your ‘doggy do’ bags!

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