The Story of a Pioneer

Frederick Macaulay Gregorie was born on August 27, 1861. He was the second son and the eldest surviving son of Major General Charles Frederick Gregorie and Henrietta Amy Lawrence of "The Parks", in Gloucestershire, England. Fred was educated at a preparatory school and then at the Thames Marine Officers’ Training Ship at Chatham, but did not enter the merchant navy.

He emigrated to New Zealand in 1881 and his brother Charles joined him the following year, but they had a disagreement and Charles returned to England. Fred worked at a sheep station called Tongoio, north of Napier, and not far from Arapawanui Station, the home of the McKinnon family.

In 1897 he married Edith Dinwiddie, daughter of Peter Forrest Dinwiddie, then proprietor of the newspaper Hawkes Bay Herald, and Mary Ann McKinnon.

Edith was the grand-daughter of John McKinnon and Catherine McIver, who emigrated from Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, to Hawkes Bay in 1858.

Fred and Edith took up a section of government land at Oporae, near Weber, south east of Dannevirke in southern Hawkes Bay.

Fred and his men cleared the land, using fire, axe and the two-man crosscut saw. Timber from the larger trees — rimu, totara and maire — was used to build a three-bedroomed house on a slight rise at the foot of Oporae Peak, giving a wide view of the surrounding countryside.

The twins, David and Mary, were born at Napier on 13 March, 1898, and their younger brother Eric (Frederick Charles) was born on 18 November, 1901.

The children seem to have had a happy and carefree life at Oporae. Their names are not recorded on the rolls of any of the public primary schools in the district, though there is a photograph showing Edith with David and Mary, aged about five, in the grounds of a small country school, presumably Waipatiki School at the junction of Oporae Road with the main road from Dannevirke to Weber. It would have been about half an hour’s ride from the Gregorie’s gate, easy enough for children practically born on horseback.

Fred seems to have taught the children at home, and taught them well. All three spoke well — their diction, pronunciation and grammar being impeccably English.

The house still stands, lived in but unrecognisable — the victim of unsympathetic modernisation. The old double-hung windows opening onto the verandah from what was the children’s bedroom have been replaced with aluminium ranchsliders; the fancy fretwork and the multi-coloured glass screen at the western end of the verandah have been removed.

The charm of the traditional pioneer dwelling has been extinguished, but there are other farm houses still standing in the neighbourhood that look almost identical to the original Gregorie homestead.

One of the frustrating things about trying to gather information about the past in this district is the indifference of those who live there now. Fred’s and Edith’s contemporaries were no better. Records are minimal and there are no photographs, other than snapshots taken by the Gregories.

Fred was a keen photographer, taking many "snap shots" around the farm and then developing and printing them himself.

Few of these photographs have survived however, and those that we have are grainy and faded, the result of inexpert processing by an enthusiastic amateur and of the limitations of the "daylight" paper used to make the prints.

There is a charming photo showing David and Mary, aged about 4, skipping happily along the verandah. Unfortunately it is too dark to reproduce.

The Gregories lived at Oporae until 1907, when they moved to Havelock North. Fred was then only 46, very young to retire, but he had apparently done very well out of the sale of Oporae and they wanted to get away from the bleak landscape east of the Puketoi Range and to enroll the children in suitable schools.

Havelock North has a delightful climate, is handy to Napier, where Edith’s family lived, and it has two private girls’ schools and a boys’ preparatory school. Mary went straight to Woodford House, David went to Heretaunga School for 4 years before going on to Nelson College. Eric achieved fame of a sort by becoming one of the very few old boys of Woodford House — one of New Zealand’s more prestigious girls’ schools. He was apparently enrolled in the infant classes at the age of 6 until he was old enough to go to Heretaunga and then, in his turn, to Nelson.

The Gregorie’s home was a long, rambling bungalow type of house at the crest of a ridge sloping down to a small stream. The view, in those days, was extensive and largely rural. The village of Havelock North was within walking distance and Hastings a short drive further to the west. All around were small farms, orchards and well-tended grazing land. Te Mata Peak — "The Giant" — rose to the east of the house. Woodford House was a short walk up Lucknow Street.

The Gregories lived in some style. Their house was charming and well set to the sun, with shady verandahs on the north and west sides. They had enough land to support their horses, a few sheep and poultry, with vegetable gardens, flower gardens and an orchard. And they had a well-appointed buggy with a matching pair of horses.

Their leisure time was filled with riding, tennis, croquet and social visits. The children went swimming in the river and in the sea, boating on old Napier Inner Harbour, which was to be drained by the 1931 Napier earthquake, and horse riding on the surrounding farms.

The children’s hobbies included photography, with David and Eric developing and printing their own photos. Their surviving prints are yellowing and faded and sometimes the detail is hard to discern, but when you consider the equipment they used it is surprising they survived at all.

They had their own dark room in which they developed their films, fixed them in "hypo" (sodium thiosulphate), and then hung up them up to dry. That part of the process hasn’t changed a lot since — it was their daylight printing method that had the truly Heath Robinson aspect.

A single frame of film was sandwiched with a piece of unexposed Kodak "daylight" paper and mounted in a printing frame — rather like a conventional picture frame with a hinged back. This was exposed to direct sunlight for a measured time and then the print, with the image already clearly visible, was fixed in hypo so that it would be permanent. Well, more or less.

The uncles, Edith’s twin brothers Bernard and Ernest Dinwiddie, were often at the house. There are photographs of them in the family buggy, on the verandah and with their car — a Talbot, I think. It’s probably an indication of David’s sense of humour that his snaps show Bernard and Ernest demonstrating the "get out and get under" side of Edwardian motoring.

The family sometimes went up to the McKinnon farm at Arapawanui — a two/three day journey from Havelock North — for picnics, rowing on the river, sea bathing, horse riding and, no doubt, shooting and fishing.

It is easy to be nostalgic about a distant past of which one has no direct experience, but it seems from the surviving photographs and from the recollections of Fred and Edith in old age that the six years between their settling in Havelock North and the outbreak of the First World War were their "golden age".

They had a leisured life style, with their investments providing sufficient income and their ten acres or so of land providing the bulk of their food and grazing for their horses. House work, light farm work, gardening, social gatherings, sport and hobbies seem to have filled their days.