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OLD, BEATRICE nee ROBERTSON

(with thanks to Bobbie Amyes)

Beatrice Old was typical of the settler families who moved to Wairoa, as Waverley was then called, when the area opened to settlement following the end of Titikowaru’s war. She and her husband John were keen to establish a property of their own, and here was the opportunity. They were not alone in this move north, two of John’s sisters and husbands, and several of Beatrice’s Howie and Aiken uncles, aunts and cousins left the Matarawa - Fordell area to take up this new venture, hoping to establish farms of their own. By the electoral roll of 1872, we know that Beatrice and John owned 50 acres on Section 157 Okutuku Block.  

 

In an era when males were the head of the household, it is male records that were collected. John is recorded on the electoral roll. John is mentioned in the history of the area.  “In order to supplement the defence force of the district the Wairoa Light Horse was formed in the early 1870’s, this making three units, the Wairoa Rifles, the Wairoa Light Horse and the Militia… The original commander of the Wairoa Light Horse was John Old.” [History of the County of Patea by C.J. Roberts, p34, Nat. Lib.]

 

Beatrice’s history just about disappeared, for she married and died in a time of minimum registration. Family historians looking for her parents would have drawn a blank. No mention of her parents is on her New Zealand certificates. She is the first person buried in the Waverley Cemetery, Plot 1, yet she has no headstone. There is no monumental inscription to lead researchers there.

 

Beatrice Robertson was born in a croft at Allathan, New Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland to James Robertson and Jean Howie on the 3rd or 5th October and baptised on 21st Oct 1845. The Old Parish records are very faint. She was their second daughter. Her witnesses were her grandfather and her uncle, both Alexander Howie.  The 1851 census has James, Jean and family in Mintlaw, a neighbouring parish. The contended successful picture painted in the census was shattered sometime after March 1851 when James must have died. Jean Howie remarried in August 1852 to a widower with ten children. The Robertson girls were split at that stage or in 1855, for Jean Howie and her new husband John Gordon took only one of the Robertson girls, Ann, with them when they migrated to Canada. The eldest daughter Jane stayed in Scotland with her Robertson grandmother and aunt. Beatrice and Isabella came to New Zealand with their Howie relations sometime between 1855-7. As Isabella was younger, she is mentioned in the Matarawa School roll for period 1855-1868. She also lived long enough to be remembered in the Howie book

[G.L.Pearce]. The key to Beatrice’s history in New Zealand is her marriage to John Old, on 1st May 1867 for it was a double wedding. Younger sister Isabella being under 21 needed to have parental permission. Her aunt, Jane Smith Young, Mrs John Howie, was named as the guardian and it was at her house, Fernie Lee, No2 Line, Wanganui, they married.

 

Unearthing Hannah Old reminiscences paints our only personal picture of Beatrice:

“When I was about eight years old my eldest brother got married and brought his wife to live near us for the first twelve month. She was a little Scotch woman and we were all very fond of her. When my brother and his wife moved away, they leased a farm nearer town and we moved into the house where they were living.  Soon after they shifted my sister next younger than me went to live with them to help look after their baby. Shortly after that my two oldest sisters got married and they all took up land in the Waverley district. That was just after the Maori wars ended or at least things were quietening down. About a year after my eldest sister got married, another of my sisters died” [Hannah Barnes nee Old, Reminiscences, Whanganui Museum]

 

John and Beatrice had two children at Wanganui and four more children after the move to Waverley. Beatrice Elizabeth Old, born 28th August 1870 in Waverley never had her birth registered, but the later siblings did. A son, William, died as a one year old and the name was given to the next son. Whether it was exhaustion from raising a young family whilst trying to establish a new farm or whether it was a combination of things, Beatrice died in November 1875 of inflammation of the lungs and a low fever, probably pneumonia. Her husband remarried in 1878 and his second wife Margaret Morton raised Beatrice’s children and became their mother.

 

Beatrice Robertson from Allathan Scotland almost became invisible in a day of male hegemony, but the irony is that with today’s knowledge Beatrice is more ‘visible’ than ever.  Her mitrochondrial DNA is directly connection to female kin in New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and other countries around the world.

 

Bobbie Amyes [wrote the article]

Heather Old [checked with sexton on Beatrice’s grave]

Hannah Barnes [Hannah Barnes nee Old, Reminiscences, Whanganui Museum]

C J Roberts [History of the County of Patea by C.J. Roberts, p34, Nat. Lib.]

G L Pearce [The Howie Family 1854-1954]

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