18591 ~ JAMES LENNIE SWAINSON
During the first week of December I received a phone call from a gentleman in Christchurch regarding his father’s stolen World War 2 medals. Trevor’s father had been a Sapper in the NZ Engineers during WW2 who had served in the Pacific (twice) with the 3rd (NZ Division, 2NZEF (IP).** When James Lennie Swainson died in 1978, his youngest son Trevor Charles inherited his father’s war medals which meant a great deal to him. Understandably Trevor was shattered when he discovered the medals had been stolen a few years ago from his former residence in Richmond, Christchurch.
Trevor had only recently approached the Christchurch RSA to see if they could help with replacing the medals. They suggested he contact the Personnel Archives and Medals (PAM) section at Trentham. After explaining his story the staff at PAM advised Trevor they did not routinely provide replacement medals however could put him in contact with an agency who could source medals from the NZDF’s international supplier in Singapore – for a price! After assessing the costs of importing the medals, plus mounting etc, Trevor declined PAMs offer as being beyond his current means. PAMs suggested as an alternative that he make contact with Medals Reunited New Zealand© to see if we could help in any way.
As most people are aware, unlike the service medals of the First World War that were issued with the recipient name impressed on the edge or back of each medal, WW2 service medals were not named (an ill considered governmental cost saving measure at the time). Consequently, it is nigh on impossible recover, much less identify, any un-named medal such as Trevor’s father’s medals.
Note: ** 2 NZEF (IP) = 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (in the Pacific)
The SWAINSONs of Liverpool
Charles Henry SWAINSON (1867-1947), or “Bluey” as some called him due to his red hair, like his father Charles SWAINSON Snr (b1832) and mother Margaret “Maggie” SMITH (b1842), was a born and bred Liverpudlian. The family had been long associated with the Cheshire and Lancashire counties at the heart of which are the cities of Liverpool and Manchester respectively. Successive generations of Swainsons had lived and worked in the Merseyside towns of Kirkdale and Everton that are situated at the centre of the Liverpool’s docklands between Bootle and Vauxhall, and where the vast majority of the residents were either seafarers or employed in trades connected to seafaring, shipbuilding or dock operations.
Charles Swainson Snr was born in Sweden but a British subject none the less. Exactly how he came to be born in Sweden is still the subject of family research being undertaken by Trevor’s family. What is known is that Charles Snr became a Mariner, as was his father William Swainson (1789-1855) before him. Charles, like his father, also became a ship’s carpenter, or Shipwright as they are known. Both learned and plied their trade whilst at sea and on land as shipbuilders and cabinet makers. These trades necessitated living in close proximity to the docks as public transport in the 19 century was not exactly a well developed service – ‘Shank’s Pony’ was the predominant mode of travel everywhere in the port city and beyond. As a result, Everton or Kirkdale had become the traditional areas the Swainsons had lived and handily positioned at generally no more than a kilometre or two from the Pier Head, the centre of the Liverpool Docks where all immigrant passengers were landed. The Pier Head is identified by three historic buildings known as the ‘Three Graces’ of Liverpool – The Royal Liver Building (HQ of the Liver Friendly Soc.), Cunard Building (former HQ of Cunard shipping line), and Port of Liverpool & Merseyside building (former Mersey Docks & Harbour Board).
The the world’s first commercial wet dock opened in 1709 at Liverpool. Since that time 43 docks have been opened, the last in 1972, that has made up the Northern, Central and Southern dock systems of the Liverpool Docks. Each dock is named taking their titles not only from famous battles, royalty, earls, dukes and barons but also from less grandiose sources such as local MPs, dignitaries and even factories. These docks are in the main are a series protected (whole enclosed except for an entry/exit point) and open water landing stages, some having warehousing adjacent. The three dock areas extending from the northern coast of Liverpool City, passed central Liverpool and southward through the entrance of and into the River Mersey. Included as part of the port city docking facilities are the Merseyside stages at Birkenhead that lie on the opposite bank across the Mersey from Liverpool city. Birkenhead was a terminal for supplying the flour mills on the Wirral peninsula, and from where the inland canal and smaller waterways were serviced to move goods and passengers.
The port was one of the most significant trading ports for international and domestic shipping of exports and imported goods, as well as immigration. All of this made for an extremely busy port and “city”, a status that Liverpool had achieved as early as 1880. But with the wealth and success also came a significantly poor part of the working population. Poverty thrived in this port town and with it came its fair share of slum housing areas that had exploded from decades of low income, uncontrolled birth rates, overcrowding that had steadily got worse, sparked initially by the Industrial Revolution in 1760 that continued through to the mid-1800s. Liverpool, although an affluent city in its own right due to it being a port city was wracked by poverty.
Notorious for its characteristics of so many sea-port cities world-wide such as a large male, seafaring or industrial worker population, cheap liquor and lots of it, loose women (and men) and slum housing. The ‘have nots’ across the city had little to look forward beyond long hours of toil in factories or domestic work, dock work or crime. Survival was the name of the game generation after generation. Ultimately, Liverpool’s commercial success would drag those in poverty above the breadline however it was not until the 1960s that slum housing was torn down en-mass and replaced with new. It would take another three to four decades to wipe out the majority of the condemned Victorian tenements while many families remained in these until the bitter end.
For the Swainsons, income came from Charles’s trade as a Carpenter and Shipwright (the later a carpenter at sea and shipbuilder). My research indicated that the woodworking related trades was a fairly common theme for several generations of Swainson men, whether as a carpenter, shipwright, joiner, cabinet maker or builder. This trade relationship even extended to young Charles Henry’s future father-in-law, Scotsman James LENNIE, who was a Joiner (and later a Coal Dealer). Ironically, Charles Snr became a Coalman in the latter years of his working life in Liverpool – perhaps it was James Lennie who had been the inspiration or maybe they had a working arrangement of mutual convenience as both were living in Kirkdale at the time.
When Charles Swainson Snr married Margaret “Maggie” SMITH in 1862 (William Swainson at this time was a Shipwright on the crew of the “Humbolt“) the family home had became No.99 Calder Street (Kirkdale was con-joined with Everton). After their first two first children, Mary (1863) and Charles Henry (1867) were born and with more planned, the Swainsons moved to a slightly bigger terrace house at No.7 Barry Street in Kirkdale (now the middle of the A5038!) which was just above the Royal Albert Dock. By 1881 they had added three more children, William (1871), Ellen [Swainson] JOHNSON (1873), and Clara [Swainson] ROWLEY (1876).
Charles Henry Swainson
As a young man in his mid-20s in the 1880s, Charles Henry Swainson had worked as a civilian assistant officer for HM Customs in Liverpool. As he got older however, it seems he must have made a conscious decision to by-pass his father’s calling for carpentry or a shipwright’s career, and every other particular trade calling it would seem. As I looked back over his work history via the Census records in Liverpool and later in New Zealand, at best Charles could be described as a “professional Labourer”– a bricklayer’s labourer, farm or bush labourer, or a general labourer – Charles did it all and was obviously not the retiring type when it came to hard graft!
As a shipwright, it is possible that Charles’s father through his woodworking industry associations, may have facilitated a connection that led to Charles Henry meeting his future wife Ann Margaret LENNIE (1878-1959) and daughter of the Joiner, James Lennie. Ann Margaret (known as Margaret) was also born in Liverpool but on the other side of the River Mersey, at Walton Row in the small village of Upton on the northern Wirral Peninsula.
Maggie Swainson (49) died in 1892 leaving Charles Henry and his siblings to look after their father Charles Snr who only lived another five years, passing away in 1897 at the age of 53. Charles was now head of the house and doing his best to keep the family cared for. Doubtlessly assisted by fiance Margaret Lennie, the couple were married at St Peters, Everton in 1904. With three siblings still living at home, and Charles and Margaret anticipating their own family, this meant another place to live would be needed. The Swainson’s moved into a two up~two down terrace house at 48 Delamore Street in what is now Walton, West Derby, less two kilometres from Barry Street. The 1911 Census shows that Charles and Margaret Swainson then had two children – James Lennie (4) and Marjorie (2). In addition, Margaret’s now widowed father James was also living with them plus a boarder for additional income – George Stewart, a 19 year old County Council Fireman.
With his parents gone and siblings either working or married with settled lives of their own, there was little to keep Charles in Liverpool. Various New Zealand companies at this time had been marketing attractive offers to entice immigrants for the general expansion of the country’s economy as well as the need to engage more men for a number of major infrastructural projects. These offers included cheap sea passage, guaranteed employment and accommodation. Compared to the on-going struggle to make a living in pre-WW1 Liverpool, New Zealand seemed a particularly refreshing prospect for a new start. Charles Swainson was 46 when he and his wife of eight years Margaret (36) made the bold decision to cut their ties with Liverpool and seek a new life for their family in the Antipodes.
The Swainsons left their home at 48 Delamore Street in Everton for the last time in Oct 1913. With their worldly possessions in hand, the family travelled by train to London Docks and boarded the SS Mamari. The Swainson family arrived in New Zealand on a memorable 13 December 1913, the Mamari’s first stop being Auckland, followed by Wellington and Christchurch before the Swainsons and others disembarked at the Port of Timaru.
Charlie Swainson soon settled his family at Waimate, 45 km south of Timaru. Charlie soon took on the work he was familiar with – labouring which he continued with from the time of his arrival in New Zealand. In later years he secured a less physically demanding and permanent position with the NZ Railways as a Surfaceman – one who maintains the railway track and permanent way. The Swainson house in Hughes Street Waimate became their final family home where Charlie and Maggie lived out their lives. Charlie Swainson was still swinging a shovel at the age of 71 when he died at Waimate in 1947. Margaret stayed on at Hughes Street with son George Henry Swainson, passing away 12 years later in 1959. Both are buried together in Waimate. George continued to leve at Hughes Street for some time thereafter, remaining a bachelor.
James Lennie SWAINSON
James was the second eldest of Charlie and Maggie’s children. Born on 21 Feb 1907 at Everton in West Derby, Liverpool and his first few years spent in Kirkdale. James was a six year old lad when the family had left London on the SS Mamari with his siblings: Marjorie (Swainson) DIXON, 4 , Eleanor Swainson, 2 , and one year old Caroline Swainson.
The Swainson family initial lived in rural Canterbury in the vicinity of Waimate with two further children born during the period of the First World War – Archibald Charles known as Archie, in 1915 and Charles Henry Swainson in 1918. James left school at an early age and gone straight into farm labouring. By 1928 he was living alone at Waihaoranga, an isolated bush settlement in steep hill country about 25 kms NNW of Waihao Downs (commonly named Waihao) in the Waitaki region of Otago. James was employed here as a Teamster – a driver of a team of harnessed horses or bullocks used for heavy work haulage such as bush clearance and timber felling, the teams dragging timber (logs) to a mill or to a bush railway that conveyed the logs to a mill. Over the next ten years, James worked variously as a Teamster or general Labourer at Grassy Hills and Waihao Downs, both areas in rural Waimate east.
In 1938 James moved from Waihao Downs to a small bush settlement called Kokiri near Kaimata in the Arnold Valley, west of Greymouth. The valley was bisected by a rail line from Stillwater along the entire length of the valley which included the tunnel at Kaimata to service the mining and timber industries in the valley. Here James worked as a Labourer and had joined up with his younger brother Archie. He had previously been employed as a Tractor Driver at Otaio inland from Timaru but had given that away and followed his father for more permanent work by becoming a Surfaceman. Archie was sent from Kaimata to a similar job at Blackwater, Tiroroa in the middle of the Buller Gorge between Inangahua and Westport, while James opted for a position with a bridging gang in South Westland, on one of the Public Works Department (PWD)** bigger roading projects at the time.
Note: ** The PWD was later know and the Ministry of Works – MoW, and in 1974 the MoW became the Ministry of Works and Development (MWD).
Since settling in Waimate, the government of New Zealand following Britain’s lead had declared war on Germany in September 3rd, 1939. It was only a matter of time before James’s and his brother’s, all single and of eligible war fighting age, were ballotted for call up to serve overseas. Being located in Westland, James’s ballot selection was published in the 1940 NZ Gazette showing him to be part of Military District No.9 (Nelson) – which included Westland. At that time he was living in the PWD Camp at Bruce Bay, Paringa in South Westland, engaged in the State Highway 6 project which was aimed at completing the link road from South Westland to Haast. The road would eventually be push right through to Wanaka thereby linking Westland with Otago. Bridging gangs for the construction of both road and stock bridges along this route were an essential part of the project given the area had very high annual rainfall, and spring snow melts which turning every water course from the Southern Alps to the sea into raging torrents. There are nine major river bridges between Paringa and Wanaka, not to mention the dozens of smaller watercourses and streams that act as drains all of which required permanent ducting, culverts and bridging to prevent the State Highway being washed away.
Note: In researching this piece, I came across an interesting Stuff article dated 31 Oct 2020 that remembered the life of Mr Guy Evans who had died in 2020 at the age of 94. Guy Evans was a civil engineer, an inventor, student of earthquakes, photographer, problem solver and a generous benefactor who had helped to create Ferrymead Heritage Park. He was considered to be the “father of the park” and was its first Chairman, remaining involved until the end of his life. As a civil engineer Guy had a co-incidental connection with the work James Lennie Swainson was involved with in South Westland. As the the “father of the park” he also had a connection with the former owner of Ferrymead House (which has nothing to do with Ferrymead Park) which in turn led to an association with Trevor Swainson.
After completing three years working and studying in England, Guy Evans had returned to NZ in 1956 and began working for the former PWD – then the Ministry of Works, on the West Coast engineering and overseeing bridge construction in South Westland through the Haast Pass. This was just ten years after James Lennie Swainson had first worked on the bridges leading up to the Pass.
Whilst Guy Evans had been instrumental in establishing the Ferrymead Heritage Park, he had also come into regular contact with Philip Wright, a former owner of Ferrymead House which is situated next door to the Park. This association led to Trevor’s involvement (quite apart from the loss of the medals) which will become clear further down in the story.
Just after the New Zealand government committed troops to support the UK-led Allied Armies in North Africa, James Swainson was balloted* to be enlist for overseas service in July 1940. The 8th (NZ) Brigade Group, 2NZEF (IP)** was raised in Sep 1940 to secure British Commonwealth interests in the Pacific that they could not immediately provide protection for from the increasing Japanese threat as they advanced from Asia into the Pacific islands. Known initial as “B Force”, the 3000 man 8th Brigade consisted of just two infantry battalions (the 29th and 30th) whose task was to be a garrison force for the island of Fiji after New Zealand assumed responsibility for the defence of the island from the United Kingdom.
18591 Private James Lennie SWAINSON – NZ Infantry, James was mobilised in July 1941 and required to report to Burnham Camp for pre-embarkation training. He was assigned to the 30th (NZ) Battalion which would follow the 29th Battalion on the Second Embarkation. The 8th Brigade departed in Sep 1941, completed its tasks in the Pacific without any significant incidents and returned to New Zealand in mid-1942.
Note: ** James’s younger brothers George and Archie Swainson were also balloted for service around the same time, George with the NZ Artillery and Archie with the NZ Engineers.
Upon his return, whether at his own request or by the Army’s acknowledgement that his bridging experience could be better utilised than as an Infantryman, James underwent a Corps and rank title change to become Sapper J. L. Swainson, NZ Engineers.
In December 1942, Sapper Swainson deployed back to the Pacific with the 8th Brigade Group, this time to New Caledonia for garrison duties and further training, but as part of a much larger 3rd (NZ) Division. The Division’s formation had started during the first deployment to the Pacific and was now two brigades strong – the 8th and the 14th NZ Brigade Groups (more than 17,600 men). Each brigade consisted of three infantry battalions, along with artillery including the 33rd Heavy Coast Regiment, the 28th HAA Regiment, the 29th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment and Anti-Tank batteries, two Field Engineer companies plus a Field Park Company** of Engineers, Medical, Army Service Corps and support units.
In early September 1943 the Division moved to Guadalcanal to provide the ground component for three campaigns against small island groups in the Northern Solomons which at that time included Bougainville as a Solomon island. The Division was supported by US Navy assets and air power provided by the USAF with a small component of the RNZAF also involved. While the islands were only lightly held by the Japanese and New Zealand casualties were relatively light, the Kiwi ground troops had to overcome challenging terrain and climatic conditions in these operations.
The 14th Brigade Group landed on Vella Levella in the northern Solomons a month after the US Army initiated the attack to clear the island. They had worked hard to hold their own being outnumbered by the Japanese. The 4th worked equally as hard on arrival facing stiff resistance, the joint forces eventually prevailing. (200-300 Japanese were killed for the loss of 32 New Zealanders killed and 32 wounded. By comparison the 8th Brigade Group’s only combat operation of the war ran from 25 October to 26 November 1943, when it captured the Treasury Islands, a small group of islands a few kilometres to the south of Bougainville of which Mono and Stirling Islands are the two largest. Sapper Swainson at this time was part of the only engineer component attached to the group, the 20th Field Company.
The initial landing took place on Mono Island on the 27th Oct. It was New Zealand’s first opposed amphibious operation since Gallipoli in 1915. After the landing the New Zealanders encountered only scattered opposition from the Japanese defenders, who withdrew to the northern coast of the island. On the night of 1/2 November the Japanese attempted a counterattack, launching a determined attack on the Allied line at Soanotalu. The attack was unsuccessful due to the recent arrival of reinforcements and the Japanese assault was beaten back. The last organised Japanese units were defeated on the night of 2/3 November. The cost to New Zealand was 40 soldiers killed and 145 wounded.
The 14th Brigade went on to fight another operation on Green Island. Like the operation in the Treasury Islands, the heavily reinforced 14th Brigade made an opposed landing on Nissan Island against light Japanese resistance on 15 February 1944. The small Japanese garrison resisted the invasion strongly but was overwhelmed by the much larger New Zealand force, with organised resistance coming to an end on 23 February. New Zealand casualties were 10 killed and 21 wounded.
Note: ** A Field Park Company provided the workshop and stores elements of the engineer provision for an infantry division during the Second World War. Each infantry division had one NZ Engineers Field Park Company on its establishment, which provided the heavy equipment and operators, workshop facilities and tradesmen (electrical, mechanical etc) and stores provisions (ammunition, fuel, rations, water, light equipment etc) for the division as a whole.
The above was sourced in part from Wikiwand: 3rd Division (New Zealand)
The 3rd NZ Division was withdrawn to New Caledonia in June 1944 and returned to New Zealand in August. The division was rapidly downsized and formally disbanded on 20 October 1944. About 4,000 veterans of the 3rd NZ Division were dispatched to Italy to reinforce the 2nd NZ Division with the remaining men of the Division returning to civilian employment. Sapper James Swainson was discharged and made his way back home to Hughes Street, Waimate.
Awards: 1939/45 Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939/45, NZ War Service Medal
Service Overseas: Sep 1941 – Jun 1942; Dec 1942 – Oct 1944.
Total 2NZEF(IP) Service: Jul 1940 – Oct 1944 = 4 years 3 months
Note: ** Archie Swainson served in both North African and European campaigns while his brother George also served in the Pacific.
- 27039 Sapper Archibald Charles Swainson – NZ Engineers enlisted at Westport and being a railway Surfaceman by trade, it was unsurprising that he was assigned to the 13th (NZ) Railway Construction Company, NZ Engineers. Archie left NZ with the Third Echelon which arrived in Egypt in September 1940 to join the 2nd NZ Division at Maadi Camp. Once the concentration of the 2nd NZ Division was completed, it was deployed to northern Greece in March 1941. Archie returned to NZ safely.
- 63797 Gunner George Swainson – NZ Artillery was working as a Driver in Timaru at the time he was called up at the same time as older brother James. His service virtually mirrored James’s with the 3rd Division except George had deployed with the NZA elements of the 14th Brigade Group which included: 17 Field (Artillery) Regiment, 207 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and 53 Anti-Tank Battery. Also returning to the Pacific on the Second Embarkation with the Divisional Artillery for service on Vella Levella and the Green Islands. The Divisional Artillery comprised: 17 Field Regiment, 29 Light AA Regiment, 144 Independent Battery, 53 Anti-Tank Battery. George returned to NZ safely
Once out of the Army, Archie went back to Hughes Street in Waimate to live with his parents and brother George. He took up contract work as a tractor driver and eventually became a Farm Manager at Otaio. George and Archie remained living at home even after their father died in 1947, Their mother Margaret moved into Waimate around 1950 to a rather large house at 6 Coronation Street. The brothers, together with James and Beatrice, remained in the Hughes Street home for a period before seeking independence and their own accommodation. Archie stayed a bachelor, ultimately retiring in Auckland where he died in 1993. George continued to work as either a Driver or Labourer. He married in 1960 and had a family of two children, living for a time in Blenheim until moving south again to settle in Rangiora where he died in 1972.
After James returned from the Pacific he went back to work for the PWD. He soon found himself working with a bridge maintenance gang on State Highway 7 at the Arnold Valley road bridge near Stillwater, just north of Greymouth. While there he met 36 year old widow, Beatrice Irene HALL (1910-1994), formerly Mrs Allan Gage. Beatrice had originated from Park Holly, Cornwall in southern England and had emigrated with her family to NZ. Her former husband was Christchurch born Allan Simeon GAGE, a Truck Driver who had come to live and work on the West Coast. After they married the Gage’s began their family with a daughter and son, Beatrice Gage (known as “Beaty”) and Allen Lewis Gage. Sadly, Allan and Beatrice’s marriage was to be brief – Allan (28) had died unexpectedly at Reefton in February 1943 following complications during his convalescence after an appendix operation. Beatrice and her children left Reefton and returned home to live with her parents.
At the time Beatrice and James met, the Halls were living only a matter of meters away from where James Swainson was working on the road bridge at Stllwater. One meeting led to another and before long their courtship was under way. James and Beatrice were married in Greymouth on 28 March 1945, witnessed by James’s parents Charles Henry and Margaret Swainson. By the time they married James had left the PWD and taken a position as a Miner at Reefton (coal and gold) and so the newlyweds moved into their first Reefton home on Bridge Street. Subsequent moves were made to 12 Munson St and 5 Dick St over the next 26-plus years James and Beatrice lived at Reefton. Their family numbered three – Paul James, Margaret Irene and Trevor Charles Swainson. In 1967 James retired at the age of 60 and with their family by then grown and gone, James and Beatrice decided around 1972 to retire to the coastal settlement of Mokihinui, some 15 kms north of Granity on the West Coast.
James Lennie Swainson was 71 when he died in Westport on 5 December 1978, and was buried in the RSA Section of the New Orowaiti Cemetery. Following his death, Beatrice moved from Mokihinui to 14 Gothard Place in Westport where she lived for a few years before going to live with her son Trevor in Christchurch. After Beatrice Swainson passed away in 1994 at the age of 84, she was returned to Westport and reunited with James at New Orowaiti.
Fast forward > December 2020
Trevor Swainson made contact with me a couple of weeks before Christmas and related to me the story of his stolen medals, a situation not unlike many I have heard from families. I explained to him the realities of finding his father’s un-named war medals, much to his disappointment. I also explained that contacting me when he did was indeed fortuitous and that I was about to make his day. Thanks to the generosity of a couple of MRNZ’s followers I happened to have sufficient spare genuine medals (bar one) with which we could reconstruct his father’s stolen medal group.
From time to time we are fortunate to be sent WW2 medals that have been found that cannot be returned due to them not being named or having any other accompanying provenance which could identify their owner. During the year I received several WW2 campaign medals being unclaimed finds, from Constable Aaron of the NZ Police in Auckland, plus several more from a Motueka ex-serviceman, Clayton Ross. We had previously reunited a set of medals and a Pay Book with a deceased veteran’s son in Australia for Clayton, who had acquired these from the internet at his own expense (refer previous post in 2019 – EGAN).
Medals we receive under these circumstances are given to any veteran who has lost medals, be it one medal or more if we have them. Rather than hold onto these indefinitely, if not used I will offer them free of charge to family members in circumstances such as Trevor’s so that they may continue to honour their deceased family veteran. Colleague Brian undertakes to mount the medals for wearing with new ribbons and pin if required, which he also does free of charge.
Earlier in the year Clayton Ross had been offered several medals that had been left unclaimed at a funeral home which had turned up during a clean out. The medals, sewn together roughly onto a piece of black cloth tape, were in a sad condition with most of the ribbons unusable. The ribbons and state of the medals indicated they had been neglected for many years. Clayton was asked by the owner if he could find a suitable home for the medals – I think Clayton must have had MRNZ in mind when he accepted the medals and dropped them in.
The best of both medal donations were combined to re-create the stolen medal group with the exception of a Pacific Star. My colleague Brian Ramsay who mounts medals for the Nelson/Tasman RSAs and general public, provided new ribbons and court mounted the replacement group at no cost. As Brian and I were both going to be in Christchurch the following week, I arranged for us to meet with Trevor to present him with the replacement medals, at no cost to him but there was a ryder. When Trevor told me where he lived, the only ‘cost’ to him was his time for a guided tour of his property. Trevor is the current owner of Ferrymead House, a historic property on the banks of the Heathcote River near the Ferrymead-Sumner river-bridge. Trevor very happily agreed to my request, obliging Brian and I when we arrived a week later.
Thanks to Constable Aaron of NZ the Police, Clayton Ross and Brian Ramsay, all of whom made this gift possible.
The reunited medal tally is now 358.
For those interested, a little more about the history of Ferrymead House and Trevor Swainson’s ownership.
“FERRY MEAD” – House, Post Office, Store & Hotel
Trevor Swainson is the 24th occupant and current owner of the Ferrymead House. The house is one of the oldest in Christchurch still standing (just!) and is situated at 285 Bridle Path Road on the right bank (facing the sea) of the Heathcote River. The house and surroundings are of historical and social significance for its associations with early settler James Townsend, for the period of time is served as a hotel, post office and store at what was the Ferrymead Railway Wharf and for the 80 years it was owned by the Bunting family.
James Townsend purchased the property in 1851 initially calling it “Greenlands”– the dwelling was built the same year. Townsend later renamed the property “Ferry Mead.” On the route to Christchurch, the Townsend family home was an early social centre. For a short period in the 1860s the property was leased and served as a hotel, post office and store at what was then the Ferrymead Railway Wharf. A ferry service had opened in May 1851 and the quay opened in the Woolston Loop later that year. Coupled with the various wharves on the Heathcote, the area became Christchurch’s Page 1 trade entrance. Construction of a railway was undertaken in 1861 and by 1863 it was sufficiently advanced that a temporary rail link between Ferrymead and Christchurch. Goods could then be delivered by boat to the new Railway Wharf at Ferrymead, and taken directly by train to Christchurch. The Ferrymead terminus was rendered redundant after only four years when the Heathcote (Moorhouse) Rail Tunnel opened in late 1867, although the remains of the railway embankment and wharf can still be seen. With the advent of the railway, river traffic dried up and the Heathcote wharves became largely superfluous, although some survived into the 1890s as depots for local industry. In 1886 Ferrymead House was purchased by the Bunting family, who developed a large commercial tomato growing business on the property. The family retained ownership until 1893 when it was sold on. The current owner purchased the property in 1972. The house remains, although modified during the 1920s, one of Christchurch’s earliest dwellings, and the only remaining building of the Ferrymead Wharf village.
Before the Lyttelton rail tunnel diverted much traffic from Ferrymead to Heathcote, Ferrymead was a key transport hub for all forms of traffic between Lyttelton and the city as well as a natural crossing point for traffic proceeding to Sumner. The speed of modern travel and advances in bridge engineering make it easy to overlook its former importance but the clue to its past significance can still be detected from its name, which derives from its function as a ferry crossing point.A ferry service was established in 1850 and operated under a succession of ferrymen until displaced by a bridge in 1864. The original crossing point was under the present road bridge. In 1852 the site of the ferry was moved 400 yards upstream closer to Ferrymead House. The shingle which was laid down to give a firm footing is still visible at low tide. A cart service was available to transport passengers from the base of the Bridle Path to the ferry along the route of the modern Bridle Path Rd.
This house, the oldest surviving building in Ferrymead, was erected by James Townsend, who arrived in 1851 and took over the ferry rights from Hughes. The house, which Townsend named Greenlands, was a “pre-built” one he brought with him from Tasmania. He later sold the house which was then run as a hotel under the name of the Ferrymead Hotel, until the closure of the Ferrymead line.
On the opposite side of the river, on the site of the high-rise apartment block, stood the Heathcote Arms Hotel, also known as the Halfway House in its early years. This was originally owned by Thomas Hughes, the ferryman. A daily dray service operated between the Hotel and the Royal Hotel in Christchurch, conveying passengers and goods. Once the tram reached Ferrymead, passengers for Sumner alighted here to connect with the steamer service or to cross the swing bridge and connect with the coach service.
In December 1851, James Townsend (d. 1866) leased a plot of one hundred and fifty acres next to the Heathcote River from Robert Godley for a period of three years. As part of this lease, Townsend was required to establish approaches to the ferry and provide a punt for the use of which he could charge tolls. In 1852 the ferry was moved further upstream to the site leased by Townsend.
Upon the site he leased, Townsend built a kitset house using the ‘best Van Dieman’s Land timber’. From an early photograph taken in December 1863 by Alfred Charles Barker we can see that it was similar in style to another ‘Hobart-town timber’ house, Dullatur, built in Opawa in 1852. Townsend’s house (as seen in the photograph below) faced north, with an east-west roof line and two dormers on the northern side of the first floor. Although he originally named it Greenlands, he eventually re-named it Ferry Mead after the adjacent Heathcote ferry that provided the only cross river conveyance from the Bridle Path road, the only route that connected Lyttelton to Christchurch at the time.
The photograph taken in December 1863 by Alfred Charles Barker shows how the new settlement at Ferrymead looked. The approach to the now redundant ferry** is situated in the foreground. Beyond stands a cluster of buildings, the centre of which is the Ferrymead Hotel. Next door, to the east, is the gaol and policeman’s house. Situated between the hotel and the river were the refreshment rooms and a goods shed. Just beyond this were the railway line and the cargo wharf.
Note: ** Remnants of the ferry landing at bottom right of the photograph, plus the piles of a wharf that ran the entire length of the Ferrymead property (about 100m) that started behind the refreshment rooms and went up river, can still be seen today.
In July 1853 the mercantile firm of Joseph Longden and Henry Le Cren of Lyttelton advertised the house for let, describing the property as ‘one hundred acres of freehold land…situated on the Bank of the River Heathcote, where schooners can land goods at all times.’ It is possible that no one initially took up the offer, as by March 1854 Joseph Longden was still advertising the property. In October 1855 Charles Torlesse, who had married Townsend’s third daughter, Alicia, in 1851, was advertising the property for sale on behalf of Townsend.
By March 1856, John Mills, a former settler from Tasmania, was living at Ferrymead, where he sold roofing shingles which he imported from Tasmania. However, in September 1856 he sold up his stock and chattels and departed New Zealand. It is possible that the property remained in his possession, as by August 1857, Frederic Le Cren (a Ferry Master at the Heathcote) advertised the house for sale (or lease). At this time it was described as a “desirable and convenient residence” containing six rooms and accompanied by a garden with trees, a stable, cart shed, fowl house, piggery and stock yards. Three months later, Frederic Le Cren married Cecilia, the eldest daughter of John Mills.
By June 1859 William Reeves was the occupant. He started a carrier business between Lyttelton and Christchurch via Sumner and used the property as a stopover point between the two destinations. In August 1862 the auction firm J. Olliver and Sons advertised the house, now consisting of seven rooms, to be let, with a lease for five years.
Initially the Heathcote had been used by cargo boats to bring goods further upriver to a site which later became known as Steam Wharf. In 1861 the Canterbury Provincial Council decided to build a railway line from Christchurch to the site of a proposed tunnel to Lyttelton. In 1863 this Christchurch-Heathcote railway line was extended to Ferrymead before being officially opened on 28 November 1863.
Even though a former ferry operator, Thomas Hughes, had kept a house on the western side of the river known as the Heathcote Hotel, the prospect of a railway line and cargo wharf at Ferrymead offered the opportunity for a rival institution. In April 1863 Stephen “Yankee Doodle” Curtis opened a store at Ferrymead House. In that same month he applied for a license to sell liquor which was granted on the condition that he improved the house before the license renewal in the following year. By July he was referring to the building as Ferrymead Hotel.
With the official opening of the Lyttelton rail tunnel in December 1867, the line to Ferrymead was eventually closed. By March 1868 the station buildings, apart from the hotel, had either been demolished or relocated. Although it was no longer on a route, the Ferrymead Hotel was still operating in 1874 as in May the licensee of the hotel, John Holman, is recorded as being charged with providing liquor after hours.
Owners – Leonard and Annie Shearman
In 1886 the property was purchased by the Bunting family who used the land surrounding the former hotel to grow tomatoes. During their ownership the building resumed its original role as a house. The house underwent renovation during its ownership by Leonard and Annie Shearman (nee Bunting), fruit growers, who are recorded as residing in the Heathcote Valley by 1913. During this time, a porch was built over the main entrance which was enclosed at a later date. A box window was added to the west façade of the ground floor (chimney side, below). Upstairs, the two north facing dormers were merged to form an unusual gable, these changes made in the early 1920s.
Under the ownership of the Shearmans, a museum was established behind the house which, during the 1930s and 1940s, catered to visits by school classes. The museum collection consisted of photographs and items associated with the history of Ferrymead House and its environs.
Owner – Philip Wright
In 1971 the house and nursery were purchased by the Wright family. Philip Wright (1943-2015) who had an interest in horticulture, with the help of his parents, the three formed a company “Ferrymead Limited” to continue the nursery business the Shearmans had started.
Philip was the son of the late Albion William (1910-1982) and Betty Laney WRIGHT. His only other family, a sister Karin, lives in Australia. Philip’s father was well known in Christchurch as the proprietor of the Pegasus Press in Oxford Terrace (now the Pegasus Arms tavern) and their latter home was one of the historic Hurst Seagar houses on Kinsey Terrace, (inherited by Philip). The Wrights also had owned and raced the now 132 year old Lyttelton vintage kauri yacht “PASTIME” which is currently undergoing a full restoration in the North Island.
Vintage Yacht restoration, 2019: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/114193609/familys-yacht-restoration-more-than-a-pastime
Philip Wright was a colourful and somewhat eccentric personality who for more than 45 years was the often “hard to get along with” near neighbour of the Tramway Historical Society and Ferrymead Heritage Park that he crossed swords with (in particular over the tram operation in the reserve adjacent to his beloved house). Philip Wright’s love of horticulture allowed him to derive an income from the nursery and the three large glasshouses the Shearman’s had built. He continued to produce tomatoes and a wide variety of plants and shrubs for sale to the public. The glasshouses were supplemented by the additional propagation of plants inside the house (as can be seen in the upstairs windows of the photograph). Philip had a genuine interest in, passion for and knowledge of many facets of history which include an ever increasing collection of antique clocks. He was devoted to, but struggled to maintain, his own “Ferrymead” as a collector of antique items and repairer of clocks and kept the museum and the nursery open to the public.
In 2008, a short 20 minute documentary “The Lost Time Traveller” was filmed, which consists of interviews with the somewhat eccentric Philip Wright as he takes the viewer on a tour of the property. The documentary provides some glimpses of the interior of the house, including the original staircase that Edward Gibbon Wakefield was said to have once ascended during a visit to Christchurch.
In Memoriam: Philip Wright by Dave Hinman / “Tram Tracts” – Newsletter of the Tramway Historical Society, Sep 2015.
Current Owner – Trevor Swainson
Trevor and his family were residents of Bridle Path Road for some years during which the family frequented the Ferrymead Nursery for plants and shrubs. Trevor’s children often visited previously married Philip Wright who lived alone in Ferrymead House since taking ownership helping out with potting, watering and general maintenance of the sprawling grounds and growth, as did Trevor. As a result Trevor and Philip became very good friends over the years with a common interest in all things horticultural. Trevor had supported Philip over many years whenever Philip and the Ferrymead heritage Park “father” or other management staff engaged him in “close combat” over the damage Philip alleged was occurring to the house as a result of the railway and trams operating close to his home. Trevor’s loyalty was unexpectedly rewarded after Philip Wright died in August 2015 when he became the sole beneficiary of Philip’s Will. Philip had gifted Trevor his Ferrymead House and land – lock, stock and barrel!
There are plans afoot to have Ferrymead House restored along with the original outbuildings and the three glass houses, now derelict due to neglect, wood rot and being consumed by the vegetation. The house suffered badly during the 2010/2011 earthquakes. The chimney shown in the video, which was already on a lean prior to the earthquakes, was later removed but the recent quakes finally brought down the chimney and breast work at the front of the house. Thieves subsequently availed themselves of the ornate brass fireplace for which that chimney was constructed, among other antique items. All of this came on top of years of the house’s neglect – Philip was no handyman and much more interested in his antiquities which did not stretch to the historic house.
CHCH City Council to the rescue?
Trevor is currently working with the city council’ heritage organisation which has set money aside for restoration work on this important historical site so integral to Christchurch’s and Ferrymead’s past. Covid19 unfortunately has put the brakes on these plans but for how long is anyone’s guess?
Philip Wright was also closely connected to another heritage building, possibly the oldest in Christchurch. The early life of what would become The Pegasus Arms at 14 Oxford Street, Christchurch began on the 1st August 1851 when cousins Henry Le Cren and John Longden (one time owners of Ferrymead House and land) purchased section 1049 and opened a merchant store. Accepting a business offer from George Rhodes (owner of ‘The Levels’ in Timaru), the cousins sold their section to W.T. Harvey, including the cottage for £115 in 1852. W.T Harvey wasn’t to hold on the place for long either – he sold out to Dr. Thomas Fisher. In 1865, the first meeting of The Canterbury Medical Society was held at The Pegasus Arms which was a well established doctor’s surgery at the time. The property was sold quite a few times (passing from one doctor to another) over the next 100 years when in 1952, it became The Pegasus Press.
Philip Wright’s father, Albion William Wright founded the Pegasus Press in 1947 and purchased the then neglected Pegasus Arms building which was to become the hub of his publishing house business for the next 40+ years. Like the Caxton Press, it combined commercial printing with literary publishing, and for the latter was heavily reliant on the Literary Fund. Pegasus followed the lead of the Caxton Press in publishing serious New Zealand literary works such as those by Janet Frame. First published by the renowned New Zealand author, Denis Glover at Caxton, Frame became a Pegasus author. Wright established overseas co-publication arrangements for her works, which helped her international reputation but was less advantageous financially. After losing his position at the Caxton Press in 1951, Denis Glover worked for Pegasus Press briefly.
In 1990, the whole building underwent a huge change – in spite of the public outcry. It is now known as The Pegasus Arms – a popular restaurant and bar. A survivor of the 2010/2011 earthquakes, the place holds the honour of being the oldest city building.