Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The ROCHE and HERRIES familes of Te Aroha, New Zealand - Part 1

Several years ago I purchased these two cabinet card portraits on eBay, taken in the studio of John Robert Hanna at 134 Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand. They were of an elderly man and woman, and were inscribed on the reverse, in what appears to be a contemporary hand, "Mrs Herries, Shaftesbury, Te Aroha, Auckland, New Zealand." This interested me, because the town of Te Aroha, nestled at the foot of the Kaimai Range on the eastern edge of the Waikato farming district, is not far from where I live. In fact, I can just see Mount Te Aroha (952 metres), with its TV mast, on the skyline from my front lawn.

This image © & courtesy of Barbara Moules - Click on photo for image of reverse This image © & courtesy of Barbara Moules - Click on photo for image of reverse

My initial research centred on the Herries family. Sir William Herbert Herries (1859-1923) of the small settlement of Shaftesbury, near Te Aroha, was a farmer, race horse breeder and politician. The entry for him in the online version of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography shows that he was born in London, England into a wealthy middle-class family, went to Eton College and, because of an early interest in fossils and geology, studied for a natural science degree at Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating in 1881, he emigrated to New Zealand and settled on a 900 acre property at Shaftesbury, where he farmed and "dedicat[ed] his leisure to what became a lifelong passion for horse-racing and bloodstock lines." In the 1890s he entered local, and then national politics, serving as a Member of Parliament in opposition from 1896 until 1921, with several years as a cabinet minister after Massey's party took power in 1912. He gained a well earned reputation as an inveterate purchaser of Maori lands.

Herries married Catherine Louise Roche of Ohineroa, a neighbour's daughter, on 4 December 1889. She died in 1912 on board ship returning home from a trip to England and they had no children. "In his latter years, unhindered by the demands of farm and family, [he] was left to pursue his addiction to politics, horse-racing and alcohol." Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900 shows that he was the eldest son and heir of a barrister Herbert Crompton Herries (1829-1870) and his wife Leonora Emma Wickham of Frimley Park, Surrey, and grandson of Major General Sir William Lewis Herries, CB, KCH, (1785-1857) of the 68th (Durham) Regiment of Foot. His younger brother Robert Stansfield Herries, F.R.G.S. (186-1941) of St Julian's, Kent, followed his father to the bar, was a Director of Spottiswoode's, Ltd. and President of the Geologists' Association from 1906 to 1908.

This image © & courtesy of Dictionary of New Zealand Biography - Click on photo for a full length version This image © & courtesy of Dictionary of New Zealand Biography - Click on photo for a full length version

The photographs of Sir William Herries included in his DNZB biography (see above) taken in the late 1890s and in 1916, respectively, don't show many similarities with the portrait by Hannah. The very full sleeves worn by the elderly woman in the Hanna portrait suggest that it was taken in the 1890s, probably between 1892 and 1897. Auckland City Libraries' Photographers Database shows that Hannah operated a studio at this address from 1885 to 1895, after which he moved to 196 Queen Street. Although card mounts are of slightly different design, it seems likely that they were both taken at around the same time, and almost certainly between 1892 and 1895.

Since they obviously weren't of Sir William Herries and his wife - they would have been in their mid- to late thirties at the time these portraits were taken - who were they? There was no evidence that Sir William's parents had ever come out to New Zealand - besides, his father died in 1870. It occurred to me that they might be of Catherine's parents, and to this end in February 2006 I posted a query on the Rootsweb New Zealand Mailing List asking for any information about the Roche family of Ohineroa. While I didn't receive anything directly relevant, one list member suggested I check the local newspapers of the period, which of course I should have done previously. I then browsed the appropriate sections of Te Aroha & Ohinemuri News & Upper Thames Advocate on Papers Past, a collection of more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals from the years 1840 to 1915, hosted by the National Library of New Zealand, and found the following article in the issue dated Saturday, 7 December 1889 (page 2):

"On Wednesday last Mr. W.H. Herries (who recently bought out his partner's interest in that valuable farm at Shaftesbury, until then the property of Messrs Thompson and Herries), was married to Miss Roche, daughter of Mr E.F. Roche, J.P., of Ohineroa, Shaftesbury. The wedding took place at the residence of the bride's father, Rev. F.G. Evans officiating. The event was celebrated in the quietest manner possible, as, beyond Mr Roche's family, Mis Purchas (bridesmaid), and Mr E.C. Meysey Thompson (best man), only a very few intimate friends were invited. The happy couple in the afternoon drove direct to their future home, the residence of Mr. W.H. Herries; which has been recently greatly enlarged and newly furnished in preparation for the wedding. We join with many others in wishing the newly married couple long life and much happiness and prosperity."
This didn't tell me a great deal beyond what I already knew. It was possible that the elderly couple in the photos were Catherine Roche's parents, but there was no way to be sure. In the mean time, I exchanged the two original cabinet card photographs with fellow collector of old photographs, Peter Koninsky, who had located and previously sent me several cartes de visite by Derbyshire photographers, my main area of interest. He was very grateful:

"The Brisbane CDV and the two Auckland, N.Z. cabinet cards survived the journey unscathed. Thank you!! These are my first New Zealand cards, and are appreciated as much because they offer a slight glimpse into the past in a distant and interesting location, as they are because they seem to be so scarce and difficult to obtain."
That was almost two years ago. Go to Part 2.


Belgrave, Michael. 'Herries, William Herbert 1859 - 1923'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007

Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999. Original data: Venn, J. A., comp.. Alumni Cantabrigienses. London, England: Cambridge University Press, 1922-1954.

Database of New Zealand Photographers, from Auckland City Libraries.

Te Aroha & Ohinemuri News & Upper Thames Advocate, Saturday 7 December 1889, page 2, on Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

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