A family snapshot

Like many Taranaki farming families, the Berridges have lived on and around the same patch of soil for about 160 years, since first arriving in the country aboard the immigrant ship, the William Hyde. Various family members have farmed the same farm on and off at Omata various times throughout history and are still there today.

John, Ann and their 15-year-old son William emigrated from Leicestershire in 1852 and their descendants held a reunion recently to commemorate the event and also to place a headstone on their previously unmarked graves in the Waireka Cemetery. The New Plymouth District Council had recently undertaken excavations to find the lost graves after records had been lost for more than 100 years.

John and Annie Berridge, along with William, bought their Sealey Rd farm for [PndStlg]100 soon after arriving in New Zealand. After no doubt initially building a raupo or ponga whare for shelter, they built a shingled roofed house later that year. George Jupp, their neighbour on Hurford Rd, helped the new family get established and in turn, the Berridges helped him where they could.

By December of that year, they had managed to clear three acres of bush, had crops and gardens planted, including acre of potatoes and had two pigs. There was plenty of work to do and Mr Jupp's diary records tasks worked on with his neighbour - washing and shearing sheep, clearing bush, grafting and planting fruit trees, lettuce and onions. They also found time to go fishing together at Oakura.

Life took a new turn for the Berridges, like everyone else in February 1860, when troubled times leading to the Land Wars found the ever- helpful neighbours cutting trees together on the Berridge farm to help build the Omata stockade. Like other Pakeha men in the district, they were sworn in to the 3rd Militia to help protect their hard-earned farms. William was also involved, being part of the Battle of Waireka, which he survived. For his efforts, he was later awarded farmland at Patea and a section at Kakaramea, both of which he sold.

During the war the family lived in town until their return to the farm in 1863. Despite the continuing instability and interruptions of the second war, life went on. By 1866 Mr Jupp had moved to a larger possibly more economic holding north of New Plymouth, selling his Omata farm of around 14 acres to the Berridges.

At the age of 37, William finally got married to Clara Hoby at Bell Block. His father had previously written in a letter to his sister in England in 1868; "You ask me if William is married - no and no chance of it. He has been very ill but is now much better but is still very weak and delicate - the hard service he went through during the war having injured his constitution and weakened his lungs." A suspected burst blood vessel in his lungs had his father hoping and praying he would be all right.

Morale was low for many farmers returning to their farms after several years away. Much of their hard work, so enthusiastically spent in the initial stages had not only been undone, but things were worse. With thistles, blackberry and gorse hedges spread far and wide, the work load had multiplied just to get back to a starting point. It was the same on the Berridge farm, with John writing how bush fires had destroyed fences and a plague of caterpillars ate all the grass on about 50 acres. He lost many sheep that winter. Due to illness, he had to find money to pay labourers to clear the thistles. John's wife, Annie however, found a skill in cheese making and its reputation for tasting like a Leicestershire Stilton cheese was noted in a letter published in the Taranaki Herald by Colonial Surgeon Dr T E Rawson.

William and his father borrowed capital in the 1870s to expand their land holdings, but following the depression years of the 1880s, they were declared bankrupt and the farm was sold in 1890.

Due to bankruptcy, after the family moved into town, two acres of land were leased in Clara's name on the north-west corner of Devon St West and Belt Rd, considered 'just outside of New Plymouth'. Here they ran a boarding house for travellers and invalids and rented out Clara's horse as a riding hack, which had escaped the bankruptcy due to being her own property. They grew fruits and vegetables which they sold to supplement the boarding income and Clara's produce won prizes in at least one Horticultural Society show. Within five years and after the death of her mother, a mortgage was taken out on the property in Clara's name and their new home, called "The Grange", was secured.

After William died, Clara continued running their family and business. She married twice more - news that her second husband was a bigamist, has only recently reached the family. (More about this in an upcoming column.) She died, along with her third husband, during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Of her and William's six surviving children, it was the three girls who inherited their mother's estate. The Belt Rd section was divided into three and sold. But it was one of their sons, Norman, who was to return the family name to the Omata area.

Many in the area will remember Norman Berridge, says Pam Davies of her grandfather, who farmed dairy cows on Hurford Rd. During his time there he expanded the farm several times and bought back the piece that had originally belonged to his ancestor in 1852.

After working his way up the ranks of the Post Office, he left there to start farming land he'd bought on Plymouth Rd. His landholdings expanded by lease or purchase to encompass the original Berridge farm between Sealey and Hurford roads, land on Hurford, Barrett, Carrington roads, at Puniho, Tapuae and where Okurukuru Winery now stands, known then as the Beach Farm. He formed Norman Berridge & Sons as a company, to run the farms.

Nowadays, Berridges still live on Hurford and Sealey roads. On the left hand side of Hurford Rd is the pet food business they began about 20 years ago, which is now leased. On the right hand side of Hurford Rd is the farm where Norman Berridge lived which is also now leased out.

The Berridge family's research has brought up an interesting fact about their surname. It is thought to derive from the Middle English word for drink; beverage - which was what a drink was named by a purchaser when used to seal a bargain. It is suggested that the word became a nickname for someone who frequently managed to get free beverages by not keeping his end of the bargain.

Whoever it was that might have gained this nickname, it may have been hundreds of years ago before surnames became common - and it seems to have stuck.

References: Berridge family research by Philip Duke and Taranaki Herald http/ /paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Taranaki Daily News