The Dinwiddies

Dinwoodie is the very ancient name of a group of farms between the River Annan and Dryfe Water, near Dumfries in southern Scotland.

It means "willow fort" in the old Welsh language that used to be spoken as far north as the River Clyde. It has various spellings — records dating back to mediaeval times show it as de Dunwidie, de Dunwidi, de Dunwythie, de Dunwethy and de Dunwedy. It is currently found both in Scotland and New Zealand as Dinwiddie and as Dunwoody.

A history of the family, "The Family of Dinwiddie of Dinwiddie", lists a succession of Dinwiddies, variously spelled, from Adam de Dunwidie, c. 1191, to the brothers Alexander and John Dynwidi, c. 1564. After that, the direct line of descent to the New Zealand Dinwiddies is lost.

See The Dinwiddies for more information about the Dinwiddies in Scotland.

Peter Forrest Dinwiddie was born on May 14, 1838, in Manchester, England. He left England for New Zealand in 1863, to join his elder brother John, who had emigrated some time in the late 1850s, and set up an accountancy practice in Napier.

In 1871 he and two other businessmen bought the Hawkes Bay Herald newspaper. He was managing director of the newspaper until his death.

In 1872, he married Mary Ann McKinnon, aged 18, the second daughter of John and Catherine McKinnon, of Aropaoanui. The wedding was held in the garden of the McKinnon family home at Arapawanui and afterwards Mary Ann and Peter set out on horseback for Napier, by way of the bridle track to Petane, the Coast Road to Western Spit (now Westshore) and a short ferry ride over the harbour mouth to the city.

The Dinwiddies built a grand colonial-style home at 17 Brewster Street, off Shakespeare Road, on Bluff Hill, then known as Scinde Island, as it was still almost surrounded by water. The house had a fine view over the centre of the city, the cathedral, Marine Parade and the grand sweep of shoreline round to Cape Kidnappers far to the south.

Below them, in the business district, were the offices and printing works of the Hawkes Bay Herald, one of three daily newspapers serving Napier and Hastings. The Herald was very much a Dinwiddie enterprise — Peter’s elder brother John was the newspaper’s accountant, John’s son Walter was the publisher and Peter’s sons Ernest and Bernard later joined the newspaper too.

When Peter died on 13 December, 1918, after more than 50 years as a city businessman, he was mourned by many friends and by the business community who had respected him for his integrity and for his reputation as a good employer.

The burial service was conducted by Dean Mayne, whose daughter Irene had married Peter Dinwiddie’s son Bernard. At a memorial service in Napier Cathedral, Dean Mayne said that Peter Dinwiddie had always been scrupulously fair in his dealings and suggested that if all employers treated their employees in the way that Mr Dinwiddie had done there would be no talk of strikes and industrial strife.

Peter Dinwiddie was at various times a member of the Napier Borough Council and the Napier Harbour Board. He was a keen bowler and was for a time president of the North Island Bowling Association, and of the Napier Bowling Club.

Peter and Mary Ann Dinwiddie had four daughters and four sons: Edith, who married Fred Gregorie and had three children, David and Mary (twins) and Eric; Kate, who never married and who looked after her mother until she died; Mary, who married Henry Brewer and had two daughters, Airini and Peggy; John, who married Maggie Searle but had no children; Willie, who married Bessie Buschl and had five children, Melva, Heather, Kelly, Maxine and Donald; Bernard who married Irene Mayne and had two sons, Peter and Michael; Ernest, who married Lilo Fryer but had no children and Sylph, who married Ellis Mills and had one son, Bernard.

The Napier Earthquake, which struck at 10.46 am on 3rd February, 1931, was a disaster for the towns and cities of the Heretaunga Plain — 258 people were killed outright, most of the brick and masonry buildings in Napier and Hastings collapsed into rubble and many more homes and businesses were destroyed by fire.

Had it not been for the Royal Navy ship Veronica, which was visiting Napier, and the two Royal Navy cruisers Dunedin and Diomede which came down from Auckland at top speed with tents, medicine, food and willing helpers, the death toll may well have been worse. The navy ships provided radio communications until the telephones, roads and railways could be brought back into operation and built a tent city at the Napier Race Course to house the homeless.

Some four fifths of the population of Napier were evacuated after the earthquake — all children, the old and disabled, the sick and injured, and all women other than nurses and essential workers — altogether some 12 000 people. Most went to stay in another tent city erected in Palmerston North’s Awapuni Racecourse, around 150 went to Pahiatua and others were scattered up and down the country.

Mary Ann Dinwiddie was walking down Hastings Street in Napier when the earthquake struck. As the buildings began to crash around her she clung to a verandah post in front of the DCL building which, mercifully, remained standing. She returned home to find her house uninhabitable. As soon as the roads were safe, Mary Ann and Kate went to Pahiatua to stay with their grandson and nephew Eric Gregorie at Gorge End, while their home was rebuilt.

Edith and Fred Gregorie, who were on holiday at Anakiwa, on Queen Charlotte Sound, quickly returned home to be with their unexpected guests. While they were staying at Gorge End, Mary Ann and Kate often visited David and Lilian Gregorie at "The Forest Nursery" in Pahiatua to see little David, Mary Ann’s first great-grandchild.

When the dust of destruction had settled and the dead had been buried, the people of Napier and Hastings, 29km to the south, came to terms with their radically altered landscape and the need to rebuild their cities. Ahuriri Lagoon, Napier’s vast tidal inner harbour, had been drained as the land rose some three metres higher above sea level. The broad estuary where David and Eric Gregorie had sailed their little sloop as boys was now a muddy expanse, rapidly drying out in the summer sunshine.

The earthquake finished the Dinwiddie’s newspaper empire. The Hawkes Bay Herald building was destroyed and the company was merged with the Hastings paper The Tribune, to become the Hawkes Bay Herald-Tribune, based in Hastings.

The new city of Napier, built in the now-famous Art Deco style, was the favourite holiday destination for David and Lilian, the younger David and Ann, until the late 1940s.

Mary Ann Dinwiddie died at her home at 17 Brewster Street, Napier, on 21 October, 1951. She was in her 98th year. Kate survived her by less than four months, dying on 6 February, 1952, at the age of 76, after a long illness. She had looked after her mother for virtually all of her adult life.

Mary Ann Dinwiddie’s eldest daughter, Edith Gregorie, died on 3 May, 1954, in Masterton, aged 80. Edith was one of the original pupils of Napier Girls’ High School.