An extraordinary tale

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 12:21 26/01/2013

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Keeping up with the Joneses will take on a whole new meaning tomorrow when more than 150 family members descend on Warea for a reunion.

The family descends from Samuel Frederick Jones 1858-1905 and his wife Margaret (Keogh) 1867-1948, who settled in Warea towards the end of the 19th century.

Getting the family together was the joint idea of some of the couple's grandchildren. Rae O'Grady and her sister, Margaret Topping, took the lead in organising the event. Topping was into genealogy and had a number of records and information about the family.

When O'Grady's email announcing the family reunion arrived in Judi Altinkaya's Wellington in- box last April she immediately asked what she could do to help, Altinkaya says.

"I was thinking salads or desserts, but Rae came back asking if I could write the family history."

Altinkaya (formerly Tracey) agreed, but again the two were at cross purposes. O'Grady says she expected some photocopied pages stapled together.

But Altinkaya was thinking, "historical research, a writing course and a quality production that could be passed on as a keepsake".

Her investigation traced the Jones family story back nearly 200 years.

"Initially, I planned only to write about my great grandmother, Margaret, who bought the homestead, and her seven children. Margaret was tragically widowed in 1905 just six weeks before the birth of her seventh child. Over 40 years later the newspaper obituary described her as 'known widely in Taranaki as a successful farmer for many years'. Her story is fascinating."

After the death of her husband, Margaret Jones realised she wouldn't be able to run the Stent Rd flaxmill, so around 1908-1909 she moved her family on to their land on Warea Rd, O'Grady says.

"Into what would be called a whare with a dirt floor."

The land was next to the Putt family. About 1912, brothers Henry, William and Richard Putt started building their house, which took three years to complete. When they moved to Okato in 1919 they offered it to Margaret Jones. It has now been in the family for four generations.

"Margaret ran the farm and she became known as a successful farmer, rare [for a woman] back in those days. She had difficulty getting a mortgage [for the land next door]."

The bank initially refused to give her a mortgage because she was a woman with a family.

Topping takes up the story.

"[Margaret's] friends in the district went to the bank manager and said, 'If you don't give her a loan we're withdrawing our funds'. And he said, 'Right, tell Mrs Jones to come back'. They said, 'No, you go and visit Mrs Jones because she can't afford to have another day away from her children'." The family joke that she was probably the first person in Taranaki to receive a home visit from a bank manager.

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Neither O'Grady or Topping remember their grandmother, but say they heard a lot about her from their older cousins.

And their mother, Dorothy Jones, Margaret Jones' daughter- in-law, spoke highly of their grandmother, O'Grady says, describing her as a "welcoming, kind, capable, organised woman".

"She had a large home and she always had a houseful of people. Her bachelor brother came and lived there to help her."

But then her brother and eldest son went off to fight in World War I , leaving the sisters' father, Sam, who was about 14 at the time, as the only male to help on the farm.

The Jones family, originally from Aldford in Cheshire, arrived in Auckland in 1864 - John Jones and his wife Susan (Faulkner).

Topping says her great grandmother, Susan, had an interesting story.

"She was a bit of a renegade as a girl and chopped off her hair when that wasn't fashionable. Her mother sent her out to the goldfields with her father aged 16. That's where she met John Jones."

They were married in Melbourne when Susan Faulkner was 19. According to family legend, John and Susan slept under the wagon and her father slept on top.

The couple had a child, who died. Susan later said she knew nothing about children and didn't realise the child was so sick, Topping says.

John and Susan returned to England where Samuel was born. The family then spent two years in South Africa before moving to New Zealand.

Samuel and three brothers came to Taranaki in the early 1890s. He returned to Auckland in 1895 to marry Margaret and the couple settled in Warea.

In 1984 there was a reunion for everyone descended from John and Susan Jones. The party tomorrow is just for the descendants of Samuel and Margaret. People are coming from the United States, Britain and Australia.

A representative from each family will talk about their memories of time spent at the homestead. A portrait of Margaret Jones, painted by family member Bruce McLachlan, will be presented to the current owners of the old house. There will be a display of old photographs, family documents and family tree documents.

Altinkaya's book A Family Successfully Raised will take pride of place.

"Margaret's struggles made me wonder about the experiences of earlier family members, and I decided to find out how my Jones family came to be in Warea, and in New Zealand," Altinkaya says. "Much of the story of the first two generations' survival is connected to the flax industry. I came across a whakatauki [Maori saying] about flax that really seemed to reflect Margaret and her forebears' achievements.

"Kua tupu te pa harakeke [the flax plantation is growing] is a saying that is often heard at tangihanga. It means that a family is being successfully raised. This saying so aptly captures the Jones' history and it inspired the title of the family history."

What is fascinating is that in comparison with the efforts of the earlier pioneers in the Jones family, the lives of Margaret's children seemed on the surface to be very ordinary, she says.

"Home-making and raising children ruled their days - yet common elements of family tragedy, a strong work ethic, community service, generosity, humour and optimism thread through the entire family history. Jones is such an unremarkable family name. But the tales that lie behind the Jones family of the homestead near the top of the winding Warea Rd are indeed remarkable."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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