Small shack a sanctuary

Last updated 07:28 05/02/2013
Garth Turfey
GRAINS OF HISTORY: Garth Turfrey outside the old Kilgour barn which later became their house. ntsG andnteIt’s said that many of the Orpheus survivors were cared for in there.

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It's been recognised as New Zealand's most devastating maritime disaster. On February 7, 1863, the HMS Orpheus was wrecked on the Manukau Bar. Of the 259 men and boys assumed to be aboard, 189 lost their lives. This year marks the event's 150th anniversary reports Monica Tischler.

ON the front section of Garth Turfrey's Cornwallis home, an unassuming shed looks out across the vast Manukau Harbour.

The little shed has always fascinated Mr Turfrey, yet it was only two years ago he discovered the history behind it.

"Two old ladies, who claimed to be descendants of the Kilgours, came up and told me how it had been the Kilgour family home," Mr Turfrey says.

The family have a connection with the HMS Orpheus naval ship, and Mr Turfrey himself does too, as a descendant of the Orpheus signalman and assistant harbour master.

William and Mary Kilgour came to New Zealand on the Jane Gifford in 1842, with their six children.

They had one further child after arriving in New Zealand.

Their son John kept a lamp glowing in the front room to help guide ships through the Manukau harbour.

The Kilgour family home was located behind where Mr Turfrey's house sits now but it burnt down in 1889 and the family later moved in to the barn.

In 1857, John married Ellen Colledge, and before the naval ship hit the sand bank on February 7, 1863, John came into the house telling his wife there would be many people inside that evening.

John had seen the ship sailing off course and knew disaster would soon strike.

Later that evening, just as John foretold, the family hosted badly injured sailors including one who had been impaled.

It is unknown how many sailors where kept in the house, or for how long, but when they were well again, they were integrated into the community.

Mr Turfrey says knowing the history of the threequarter-acre land he and partner, Amy, bought eight years ago is fascinating.

"I think about the trees that have been planted and the little gardens and flowers that pop up out of nowhere," he says.

"That random bulb or beautiful flower, and those big macrocarpa trees out the back were obviously planted hundreds of years ago by the Kilgours."

Mr Turfrey believes the spirit of the Kilgours are still on the land.

"I was walking out the back once with my partner and two kids and saw a lady who I thought was my partner at first, but she was wearing a cream sack dress and then disappeared into the Bougainvillea plant. I think she might have been one of the Kilgour daughters," he says.

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Napier resident and great-great -granddaughter to John Kilgour, Kathryn D Mooney has written a book, The Kilgour Family of Te Huia, West Auckland.

Ms Mooney's interest in family history began when she was 11.

"My brother and I went to visit our grandma. She was amazing and gave us our history."

"We said ‘Nana, will you tell us about your family?' and we both took notes," she says.

Mr Turfrey believes one doesn't own the land, it owns you, and uncannily, recently discovered he's related to the Kilgours through marriage.

- Western Leader

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