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Mary was born into a farming family in The Braigh, Waipu, Northland, New Zealand on 28th October 1898.
When Mary was born, her father, Francis Somner, was 37 and her mother, Maria (née Campbell), 36.
She was the youngest of three children born to Francis and Maria – Francis Usher (28 January 1891) and Arthur Hay (6 June 1892). Francis died when he was only six months old on 21 June 1891.
The only memento of her early years is this postcard sent to her by her father on her seventh birthday.
I have no knowledge of her childhood years, education or work history but believe she lived at home until she was a young adult. She may well have attended the Braigh Public School, a photo of which we have taken from a card to mark its 75th Anniversary in 1937.
We do know, however, that her brother Arthur served with the NZ forces in World War I and one of the photos of him in uniform is shown below:
Arthur also sent Mary a number of postcards from “the front”, one of which appears below:
During her brother Arthur’s absence at the war, it is likely that Mary would have taken over as much of the work as she was able on her parents’ farm. These photos from that time provide some evidence of that:
Photos: Mary Somner in Waipu – 1910 to 1920
Perhaps too she developed her love of animals at this time – something she retained throughout her life.
But all work and no play makes Mary a dull girl, so she and her friends are seen here enjoying the proximity of the beach probably at Waipu Cove:
Photos: Mary with friends at the beach, Waipu Cove, perhaps – 1910 to 1920
We can only surmise that she met Cuthbert Peter Butler, whom she later was to marry after he returned in 1920 from a short visit to England and purchased a small property at Waipu.
And, without reading too much into it, we wonder if he later chose to move to Whangarei to live before or after Mary’s parents moved in 1923 to a new farm near Whangarei.
It is said that the path of love never runs smooth, and I can’t help wondering if this was the case with Peter and Mary.
In any event, she sailed for the UK on 26 August 1925 on the SS “Arawa” – arriving in Southampton on 23 November.
According to the entry on the Passenger List, she was going to stay at 3 Findhorn Place, Edinburgh. Another more intriguing entry on the Passenger List is that she marked Scotland as the “Country of Intended Permanent Residence”. I wonder whether that was her intention and, if it was, why she changed her mind and returned to New Zealand?
As you can see from this, the owner of the property was Andrew Geddes Scott who, it turned out, was an uncle by marriage.
She was in Britain for nearly 12 months, returning on the SS “Ruahine” which sailed from Southampton on 11th February 1927.
The surprising thing, perhaps, was that she and my father married only a month later, on the 19th of April. Perhaps they needed the break to make sure that marriage was the right thing for them both, particularly given his relative physical disability. Or were her parents unhappy with her choice of a future husband and paid for her passage to Scotland?
Mary was 28 years old when she married, and Peter 30.
Thanks to my niece, Judy Ward-Butler, who found a “treasure trove” of photographs in an old album of my parent’s, I now have some of their wedding photos and these appear here:
Photos: Peter and Mary’s Wedding Day – 19th April 1927
And this is a copy of the cutting from the “Northern Advocate” reporting the occasion
Sadly, Mary lost her first child, a son, stillborn, on 28 February 1928. She lost another child, a daughter, also stillborn, on 23 May 1935. As I assume was customary at the time, my brothers and I were never told of these losses and I only learned about them recently.
According to the 1925 and 1928 Electoral Rolls, they lived somewhere on Kamo Road, Whangarei and, presumably, were still there when Richard “Dick” was born on 29 November 1929.
Norm was born on 20 August 1933 and named Norman John, I believe after an adopted uncle, Norman Stevens, of Paparoa, whose family were close friends of Peter’s.
My earliest memories of where we lived are of a house high on the hill in Jessie Street, Whangarei, New Zealand, which my parents bought from my maternal grandmother, Maria Somner in 1932. Maria had purchased the property three years earlier. Whether she moved there when she bought it or later when my parents moved, we do not know, but she certainly lived with them until at least 1935 and perhaps up to the time of her death in 1937.
And before you ask, Wharepuke is Maori for “house on the hill”. The property which could best be described as a farmlet shared a boundary with a bush reserve and was overlooked by Mount Parahaka, an old bush-clad volcanic cone that is a Whangarei landmark.
The weatherboard house was built in the early 1920s and painted a chocolatey brown not unlike the once popular “Mission Brown “of the 1970s. I have no idea of how big the house was but recall it as having an expansive lawn on which my mother spread newly-bought unbleached calico sheets to be whitened by frost and sun.
At a little over two acres, the property was much been bigger than I recall because there was certainly room enough for it to be run as a small poultry farm from which we sold eggs under the Wharepuke name. If it was required or not at that time, the eggs were individually rubber-stamped with an oval-shaped “Wharepuke” brand mark. It is likely that we also sold dressed poultry but, whether we did or not, one of my mother’s specialties, roast chicken with thyme and onion stuffing, appeared on our dinner plates on most Sundays. Peter never used an axe to despatch the chicken chosen for sale or our consumption, relying on the skill he had acquired somewhere of breaking its neck with what appeared to me to be a mere flick of the wrist.
Although I was not aware of it at the time, Mary also kept and bred Bacon Pigs and as you’ll read won some prizes for her efforts:
Photos: “Wharepuke”, Jessie Street, Whangarei (1932 to 1941)
For a short period, Mary also kept a couple of Borzois (Russian wolfhounds). They were I feel sure bought from a Doctor George Walker who bred not only prize-winning Borzois but also prize-winning Jersey cattle. How he had time to conduct his medical practice and manage his private hospital, Beaulieu as well, I’ll never know, but he did and attended Mary at both my older brother Dick’s and my birth. The borzois turned out not to be as robust of health as their name implies, both succumbing quite early to what I understood to be a gastrointestinal condition to which they are prone.
And she did very well with her Borzois at the Centennial Show, also in 1940:
Mary did not have another dog until the late 1950s, sometime after my father had retired and my parents had moved to Kamo, north of Whangarei. This was one of a less exotic breed, being a Dachshund with the unlikely name of “Lassie”. She had little or no exercise and any amount of treats in addition to her “normal” diet. She may, as a result, have been the only dachshund ever whose expansive midriff actually dragged on the ground.
Mary’s mother, Maria, passed away suddenly on 25 October 1937 in Papatoetoe, Auckland at the age of 75, and her father, Francis, on 31 July 1939 in Waipu at the age of 78.
At some time in the mid to late 30s, I understood that Peter was given for reasons I have never known the following Maori gifts – a pari (bodice) and tipare (headband), a piupiu (flax skirt) as well as a taiaha (spear-type quarter-staff) and a greenstone axehead. I do remember them but had no idea what had happened to them in later years. There was some thought that the gifts may have been for something Peter did in association with or for Princess te Puia, but in light of the following that now seems unlikely.
Thanks to my nephew, Maurice’s persistent researches it now transpires that the piupiu was not given to Peter but to Mary. Again courtesy “Papers Past” this is the evidence he found:
It also transpires that Maurice is the “keeper” of the taiaha and continues to worry away at its provenance as a lead to where it might have come from. The fate of the greenstone axehead remains unknown.
What we do have however are photos of Mary wearing the dress and headband and demonstrating her skills with poi, which must also have been included with the other gifts.
The youngest of Peter and Mary’s children, Peter was born on 11 July 1940 and there’ll be no prizes for guessing after whom he is named.
In July 1941, we moved closer to the centre of Whangarei where Peter built an office at 117 Bank Street just next to the house that he had renovated.
As a matter of interest, in Bank Street, we lived next door to a Mr & Mrs Hugh Crawford. Hugh Crawford was the owner of the “Northern Advocate” and, many years later, Mrs Crawford was a resident of the same retirement village, the “Kamo Home & Village”, as Mary.
Bread, milk, meat and groceries were all delivered to the door – the same door that welcomed the “Rawleigh’s” man when he called to sell a whole range of household cleaning, cooking and health products. Mary swore by “Rawleigh’s” essences, furniture polishes and scrubbing brushes. I have not heard of them for years but apparently, they still operate in both Australia and New Zealand. I don’t remember the Rawleigh’s man having as brightly coloured van as this – I think he just travelled all over the North in his own car.
Mary was an avid fan of Nelson Eddy and, to a lesser extent, his co-star, Jeanette MacDonald, and I’m almost sure I saw every one of their movies with her.
Two that stick in my mind were “Rose Marie” and “New Moon”. Another movie I saw with her, on V-J Day (15th August 1945) was the first Technicolour version of “The Phantom of the Opera”, starring, you guessed it, Nelson Eddy. I must have been a sensitive little flower because, in a nightmare that night, I relived the acid-throwing and chandelier-falling scenes.
When in 1947 ill health forced Peter to relinquish many of his posts, he sold his business to Fred Philpott and retired, he and Mary bought a property at Kamo. The address then was 216 Bay of Islands Road, but the numbering changed when the road was renamed “Kamo Road”. It too was called “Wharepuke” – and it was on the top of a hill. And, here, thanks to young Peter, is an aerial photo of the property as it was in October 1955.
If my memory serves me correctly, they had an old army house moved from somewhere up north – and to all intents and purposes rebuilt it.
The house was set back from Kamo Road but adjoined the sports ground – where I think Dick played football and, certainly later, refereed.
The original purchase comprised some 21 acres and was certainly large enough for my mother to keep horses.
Here are some of those, and one from the twenties or thirties, of which I have photos:
Some of Mary’s Horses (1920 to 1980)
There had been some thought that part of the property could be cultivated to grow vegetables and, to this end, a Trusty tractor identical with that shown in the photo was bought. As I only came home from Silverstream during the longer Christmas holidays, I missed out on a lot of what happened during those years. I don’t think the market garden idea ever came to fruition but I do have clear memories of Dick ploughing and harrowing “the top paddock” with the trusty “Trusty”!
In early 1948, the first of two subdivisions of the property was completed. This one involved the creation of 13 building lots fronting Kamo Road leaving some 17 acres which were still enough for Mary to keep a horse or two. Underlining my parent’s “Catholicity” – or more likely Peter’s – two of these lots were given to the church as potential sites for a local church and presbytery.
1953 was the 100th Anniversary of the landing of the Nova Scotia Scots’ settlers in Waipu. Mary’s maiden name was Somner but her mother’s name was Campbell – one of the descendants of that family which settled there. The following photos were taken at the Centennial Highland Games held in Waipu in 1953:
Photos: Our visit to the Waipu Centennial Highland Games – 1st January 1953
A significant event at the Centennial Highland Games was the opening of a “House of Memories” – now known as the Waipu Museum – and where is found the following family item originally left to Mary by her father, Francis Somner, and passed on to the Museum by my brother, Dick.
Well, not having seen or heard of such a thing, I deduced from its name that it was a device for cutting holes in a hay-stack to cool it down and prevent spontaneous combustion. And, what’s more, I found a photo to prove it. How wrong was I?
What Francis had invented was a little more complex than just a simple hole cutter. In fact, on the 7th April 1852, he registered the design of his “Stack or Rick Ventilator” with the UK Designs Office. And courtesy of the UK National Archives, this is a copy of that registered design:
As already mentioned, Mary had a real love for animals – and horses in particular. She learned to ride on her parents’ farm in Waipu and as far as I can gather continued to do so until she and my father married and lived on properties where she was unable to keep a horse. After the move to Kamo, she resumed riding and in the mid-1950s became quite involved with the Kamo Pony Club. As can be seen from the photo that follows, the club must have been quite a sizeable one at that time.
Of the horses she owned, three I remember were “Grey Boy”, an unsuccessful young racehorse “Bronze Trail” who I failed to master and “Brownie” and “Mickey” who I did, sort of!!! There were more of course than these three and some of these are shown below:
Photos: Three of Mum’s horses on which I recall riding
Apart from her horses she also had, as I’ve mentioned, a Dachshund with the unlikely name of “Lassie. There was also “Tickle-tum” a much-loved grey and white cat whose name says it all.
Whether or not it had been part of their original intentions for the property they subdivided the 17 acres they had kept from the 1948 subdivision, selling the larger 10-acre lot in 1951. Perhaps the sale was necessary to improve their financial situation. During those years, I was still at Silverstream and young Peter was to follow me there for four years from 1951. The costs of this alone must have been a considerable drain on their retirement funds.
In any event, Peter returned to work in 1951 joining the North Auckland Farmers’ Co-operative initially as a Stock Clerk and later as head of the Wool Department. He was able to lessen his travelling time and work much closer to home when, in 1958, he joined the long-established family-owned Wilkinson’s Bakeries, as their accountant. He later became Managing Accountant of Northern Bakeries – a position he held until his retirement in 1965.
His move to Wilkinson’s had another advantage too in that he could keep an eye on the progress of the second sub-division which was undertaken late in 1961. It comprised 24 lots most of which were either side of a dog-leg cul-de-sac appropriately named “Butler Place”. They built a new house on Lot 3 of their subdivision, which became No 5 Butler Place. And I think I’d be right in saying that this was the only new house they had ever lived in.
On his retirement from Northern Bakeries in early 1965, they moved to Russell, buying a one-bedroom bach at what was then 32 Long Beach Road. Located as it was on what was – and doubtless still is – a beautiful and safe beach. Pat, Michael, Carolyn and I made at least one visit there before we moved to Australia in May 1966. We have a photo or two to prove it, as does one of Dick’s daughters, Judy Ward-Butler, who shared with me a number of them taken when they visited in December 1965.
Photos: 32 (now 145) Long Beach Road, Russell – 1965 to 1969
Beautiful, peaceful and sunny a spot to retire to as any of us could wish for, it seems that the availability of convenient health and ageing support systems in a community as small as Russell’s became a concern. And it must have been only after much soul-searching that they took the decision in early 1969 to move back to Kamo.
When they returned from Russell they lived in another modest new home which they had built on land they had donated to – and now leased from – the Catholic Church. Quite apart from the stress of moving itself, this must have been made even more so because, although the Kamo lease ran from April, the Russell property was not sold until the November.
Mary continued to live in Butler Place for a year or two after Peter died in 1972 at the age of 74. They had been married for 44 years.
Her brother, Arthur Hay Somner, died on 31 July 1973 at Waipu. He was 74 years of age.
Although she was managing much better on her own than any of us had imagined she would, she finally agreed with some reluctance to move to the Kamo Home and Village in nearby Ford Street. Having done so, she was very happy there not least because she was reunited with a number of long-time friends, one of whom was Edna Crawford, a neighbour from Bank Street.
In June, Dick let us know that Mary’s health had deteriorated quite suddenly and that the doctor suspected bowel cancer. At 89 years of age, surgery was not an option and the decision was taken to ensure that she be kept as comfortable and pain-free as was possible at that time. She passed away at the Kamo Home on 13 August 1989.
I had been unable to get away to see her before she died but with Dick attended her funeral. She was buried alongside Peter at the Maunu Cemetery.
For no reason that she ever explained to us, she had been determined to live until she was into her nineties. Perhaps she wanted to outdo her old friend, Edna, who had lived until she was 97.
ANECDOTES & STORIES
One of the Whangarei businesses that I can remember was RG Hosking’s, where my mother bought most of her clothes. Every six months or so she and my father would go down to Hosking’s and when he was comfortably seated, she would parade the frocks or suits recommended by the assistant. He would nominate which ones he thought looked good on her. Those which my mother liked too were then taken home on approval and only those that she was happy with were kept; any others were returned to the store.
Electoral Rolls – Mary Butler (née Somner)
Maps or photos
Again thanks to Judy, I now have a number of photos of Mary.
- 28 Oct 1898 - Birth - ; Waipu, New Zealand
- 16 Aug 1989 - Burial - ; Maunu Forest Lawn Cemetery, Maunu, New Zealand
- 13 Aug 1989 - Death - ; Kamo Home, Kamo, New Zealand
John Usher Somner
14 Aug 1829 - 17 Aug 1879
1 Nov 1860 - 31 Jul 1939
11 Jan 1830 - 28 Nov 1911
28 Oct 1898 - 13 Aug 1989
Abt 1814 - 19 Aug 1899
Abt 1862 - 25 Oct 1937
Abt 1818 - 25 Dec 1900
|PARENT (M) Francis Somner|
|Birth||1 Nov 1860||Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, Scotland|
|Death||31 Jul 1939||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Marriage||28 Jan 1890||to Maria Campbell at Neil Campbell''s House, Upper Waipu, New Zealand|
|Father||John Usher Somner|
|PARENT (F) Maria Campbell|
|Birth||Abt 1862||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Death||25 Oct 1937||Papatoetoe, New Zealand|
|Marriage||28 Jan 1890||to Francis Somner at Neil Campbell''s House, Upper Waipu, New Zealand|
|M||Francis Usher Somner|
|Birth||28 Jan 1891||Te Pahi, Kaipara, New Zealand|
|Death||21 Jun 1891||Te Pahi, Paparoa, New Zealand|
|M||Arthur Hay Somner|
|Birth||6 Jun 1892||Pahi, Kaipara, New Zealand|
|Death||31 Jul 1973||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Marriage||to Lizzie Trewin at Marahemo, New Zealand|
|Birth||28 Oct 1898||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Death||13 Aug 1989||Kamo Home, Kamo, New Zealand|
|Marriage||19 Apr 1927||to Cuthbert "Peter" Butler at St Francis Xavier''s Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|PARENT (M) Cuthbert "Peter" Butler|
|Birth||24 Mar 1897||Croydon, Surrey, England|
|Death||25 Jan 1972||Public Hospital, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||19 Apr 1927||to Mary Somner at St Francis Xavier''s Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Father||Richard Jago Butler|
|Mother||Elizabeth Ann Greetham|
|PARENT (F) Mary Somner|
|Birth||28 Oct 1898||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Death||13 Aug 1989||Kamo Home, Kamo, New Zealand|
|Marriage||19 Apr 1927||to Cuthbert "Peter" Butler at St Francis Xavier''s Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|M||Norman John "Norm" Butler|
|Marriage||to Carol Anne Wendy Scott|
|Marriage||to Patricia Anne Barnes|
|M||Richard "Dick" Butler|
|Birth||29 Nov 1929||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Death||20 Apr 1998||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||18 Jan 1958||to Gwenyth Julia Forsyth|
|Marriage||to Sue Fendley|
Sources and citations