Early Manawatu and Rangitikei settlers' families gather over Easter

Stephen Rush studies his 80-metre family tree at a big family reunion of early settler families in Palmerston North.
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Stephen Rush studies his 80-metre family tree at a big family reunion of early settler families in Palmerston North.

Descendants from some of the earliest settlers in Manawatu and Rangitikei gathered during Easter to learn more about their history.

The Rush and Rodgers family reunion brought together more than 160 people at the Awapuni Function Centre in Palmerston North, including several from overseas. This was from an estimated 3000 descendants of Cecilia Eliza Rush and Charles Rodgers, family historian Dale Hartle said.

The pair arrived in Wellington on the second settler ship there in 1840, she said.

Thomas Rodgers was the first European born in Wellington.
SUPPLIED

Thomas Rodgers was the first European born in Wellington.

Two months later, their first child Thomas Rodgers was born, the first European born in Wellington. Then several months later, Charles Rodgers drowned.

Cecilia then married Richard Rush and they had four children before he was murdered.

Next, she married his son John George Rush and they had five children.

The Rush and Rodgers clans stuck together, following Thomas Rodgers to Rangitikei and Manawatu, some of the area's first European settlers.

Many of their descendents are still in the region, Hartle said.

Learning more about your family and the history of a place helps you understand who you are, she said.

It was amazing how tough life was for early settlers. Travelling to New Zealand was a one-way trip for most and the first groups were shocked little of the promised infrastructure was in place when they landed.

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By the 1870s, "Manawatu was newly opened area, just being settled. Palmy itself was a clearing in the bush, a big marshy swamp, and The Square was the centre of the swamp and only the Maori new about it."

They lived under canvas at first, hauled water from streams, established crops and farms, and helped build the towns. "The [family] arrived and started clearing the land, and they all contributed to the local culture by joining clubs or in politics. They were just so hardy and strong and resilient. They just had no choice if they wanted to survive, to find food, shelter, water. They just had to keep going."

The family helped found the first Catholic church and John George Rush was elected to the borough council.

Hartle believes the family must have depended heavily on Rangitaane at first, to show them where to gather food, where paths were, and where to get food and supplies. "The physical work would have been pretty tough in those days. They died young – physically worn out," she said.

 - Stuff

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