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Author seeks grandfather Smithies' relatives

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 12:03 25/03/2014
Southland Times photo
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
Author Doreen McCartan Couchman is looking for Southland descendants of engineer George Smithies, who was dragged through the courts after running away from his wife and 10 children.

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Family history can sometimes seem a little boring, but author Doreen McCartan Couchman reckons there are a few good yarns in her ancestry.

She has collected the stories of her grandfather, George Smithies, in her newly published book Restless Engineer: The saga of George Smithies.

It really is a bit of a saga, featuring a runaway husband, a kangaroo court case and a gun- toting mayor.

Couchman, visiting Invercargill this week to meet relatives, said she was hoping to track down southern branches of the Smithies family, related to her grandfather George.

Mr Smithies moved to New Zealand from England, via Australia, where he became a "brilliant" engineer.

He was quite well thought of in his home of Wanganui - up until 1908, when he suddenly up and left his wife, Bridget, and their brood of children, Couchman said.

"He had very itchy feet for travelling, travelling across all these places, while my poor grandmother's at home, left with 10 children."

Couchman's research had tracked her grandfather flitting to the United States, England and Australia, even travelling during World War I, as he attempted to forge a new life away from his wife and children, she said.

Eventually, Mrs Smithies managed to pin down her wandering husband and drag him back to face what he had done.

Lawyer Charles Mackay, the future mayor of Wanganui, took the unusual step of representing both Mr and Mrs Smithies in court, Couchman said.

"It was a real kangaroo court case. There's a few good yarns in it."

Mr Mackay himself would later become embroiled in his own court case, after shooting a poet who alleged the mayor had made homosexual advances, she said.

George Smithies' oldest son, Robert, moved to Invercargill with his wife, where the pair had 15 children, so there were lots of descendants in the region, Couchman said.

Southern descendants of George Smithies, or history buffs inter- ested in buying a copy of her book, can contact Couchman at doreencnz@yahoo.com.

 

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- The Southland Times

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