Les & Beverley's Story

Reproduced with permission from New Zealand Memories Issue 72 June/July 2008
- Subject to copyright in its entirety.


Beverley Blackwell’s great grandfather Benjamin Sanderson was born in Cumbria, England. He sailed to New Zealand as a twelve year old, with sister Sarah, and parents William and Ann Sanderson, on the sailing ship Tybernia. A sibling was born during the 1863 voyage and named Ann Tybernia. Brother William was born at Okupu in 1866.

At that time the New Zealand government was calling for people to come to the colonies. A wave of European settlers were attracted to Great Barrier Island with the government’s subdivision of the land. Some acquired farming blocks, farming sheep and cattle, many cut firewood for the Auckland market and beekeeping provided an additional income and a product with which to barter. Gum digging was another sideline, and fishing.

Others were lured away to find their fortune on the goldfields at Thames. The Sanderson family settled on the Island to farm and, in 1892, they discovered silver at Okupu. The volcanic soil showed signs of quartz and the search paid off. A silver bracelet, still treasured by the family, was made from the first yield. Mining brought the whole area alive in the 1890s.

Beverley’s ancestors had a head start on the Blackwells. Not by much though. Les Blackwell’s great grandparents arrived on the sailing ship Victory in 1865 from Ireland. It was a 127 day voyage, Beverley confirms from her carefully recorded family histories. George and Elizabeth Blackwell made the decision to settle at Great Barrier Island in 1867. A very good decision as far as great grandson Les is concerned, there’s unquestionably no place like home. The Blackwells pioneered beekeeping on the Island - Les proudly tells that his great grandfather provided Pohutukawa honey for the table of King George V.

When they were young, both Les and Beverley worked on their respective family dairy and sheep farm. At one stage Les assisted his mother for three seasons to hand milk 50 cows morning and night while a new cow shed, complete with milking machine, was being built.

“We enjoyed fish meals from the sea, and meat, milk and cream came from the farm, with wild pork hunted from the bush.” Les’ mother kept about 100 fowls, selling the eggs to the City markets.

“We always had our chores to do outside – milking hours, wood to collect, calves, pigs, hens and dogs to feed. It’s a wonder we had time to go to school. There were fun times, and life was exciting. Our parents were always very good to us, giving encouragement and support.”

Beverley and Les were married in 1957. The Bishop gave permission for them to wed on Great Barrier Island, and the Rev. Castles officiated. They have spent 50 years plus of married life in a house designed and built by Les.

“My uncle, who was 70 at the time, told me what to do and each day I followed his instruction. We started on the11th October 1956 and finished in May of the following year. We bought an English Rayburn stove costing £105 - a lot of money in 1956”. Les made all the joinery and cupboards, and modern conveniences were installed. Les has been involved in working on the Barrier roads and general carrying for 49 years.

“We moved everything to and from the scows and barges. If the weather was bad, the barge would be delayed. Occasionally farmers would spend all night rounding up stock, only to find that the barge couldn’t make the crossing. The cattle would all have to go back to where they came from. Sorting them out was quite a problem.”

Les carried on the Blackwell tradition of beekeeping to supplement the carrying business, and one season exported to Auckland some 15 tonne of honey!

“Our four children had a wonderful childhood growing up on Great Barrier Island,” Beverley recalls. “We would read to the children by lamplight each evening before they went to bed. And no distraction of television in those early days. The children attended Mulberry Grove School at Tryphena and received a wonderful start to their education. They went on to attend secondary schooling in Auckland. Reduced fares from the Auckland Aero Club enabled them to fly home about every six weeks. It was very hard for them leaving their lovely Island home, but they coped amazingly well, and we were very proud of them.”

We asked Les about his first car. “I’ve had four so far. In 1957, I sold my motorbike and bought a 1947 Chev Fleetmaster. My latest car is a 1981 Oldsmobile which I have had for the last 20 years.” Most of the roads in the central area of the Island were linked in 1938 when the airfield was completed. In the early days, mode of travel was by boat, horseback and on foot.

“Fuel is expensive here now – for our vehicles and power generators. The area didn’t really open up until 1938 when an engineer came across to link the roads. In 1995 a wind turbine was installed, giving 24 hour power to the house. A vast improvement on running a generator in the evenings, and a far cry from the days of candles and lamps. It was a great day in 1997 when we were given a street number for our house!” 49

Following in their ancestors’ footsteps, the Blackwell’s are passionate gardeners - “the garden rewards”. They grow five different types of Maori potatoes, along with more vegetable varieties than I have even seen in one place. And fruit - citrus, tangelos, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, peaches, avocados, macadamia nuts, kiwi fruit - although Les did admit to less success with the banana. Keeping up with the bottling must be a challenge for Beverley.

The garden also rewarded us. Afternoon tea during the course of our interview consisted of a sample of the produce: delicious homemade jam atop homemade scones.

“Nowadays, with our grandchildren having birthdays, 21sts and weddings, we go to Auckland a number of times during the year”, remarks Beverley. “Next time you come we’ll show you around the flower garden”. I’ll make sure we put aside a full day!

Walter (Beverley's grandfather - on the right) and Beverley's father,
Hector Sanderson (left) transport cream to the port over the wagon track.

More 'People of the Barrier'; Eileen's Story; Pat's Story.

Plus Jennifer Beck’s account of her memorable visit to Great Barrier Island written in 2004

Reproduced with permission from New Zealand Memories Issue 72 June/July 2008 - Subject to copyright in its entirety.
Neither the photos nor the text may be reproduced in any form of advertising, marketing, newspaper,
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