Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Pacific Belshaws 2 - arrival in New Zealand

Period portrait: James, Mary, May and Horace Belshaw, Platt Bridge 1905, taken just before James emigrated to New Zealand.

In July 1905, grandfather James Belshaw left Mary and the two children behind in Platt Bridge to seek a better life in New Zealand. He would send for them once he had established himself.

Some time in the months before his departure, James had a family photo taken. It is very much a period piece, reflecting the fashions of the time.

They are all wearing their best clothing. James looks relaxed. Mary holding daughter May looks stressed. Horace at the front holding the dog has an inquisitive look. A carpet hanging from the wall provides a backdrop, with a floral decoration to the left.

A little over 12 months later, James felt sufficiently well established to send for the family. They arrived in Christchurch around September 1906. Eighteen months later a third child, James, was born.

I note that this means I am a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen. I am very proud of my New Zealand heritage, I think of myself as part Kiwi, but I hadn’t realised that I was technically a dual citizen until the recent troubles involving Barnaby Joyce.

Australians have a tendency to look down a little on New Zealand, something that makes Kiwis bristle. We therefore do not realise just how far in front of Australia New Zealand has been in key aspects of life.

In 1906, the New Zealand population was 936,309. The population of Christchurch and its immediate environs was 67,878. Despite these small numbers and the dispersed nature of the population, by 1906 New Zealand had an articulated decentralized education system from school through teachers’ training colleges to university.

Canterbury in particular was a centre for new ideas and had a totally disproportionate influence on global intellectual life.

Much later, the New Zealand example would play out in New England politics as those seeking self-government and northern advancement used New Zealand as a case study to justify their campaigning. For the present, Canterbury provided the base for the emergence of the Pacific Belshaws.

On his arrival in New Zealand James Belshaw Snr worked in various jobs including farm labourer and coal merchant, before becoming a Primitive Methodist home missionary.

Belshaw could not become a fully fledged minister because of his lack of formal education. A home missionary role was an intermediate step that allowed him to support the faithful like a minister, but without the formal qualifications.

It also provided a more secure position to bring up his family, the next step in the emergence of the Pacific Belshaws.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 January 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017, here 2018 


Johnb said...

You can see the confidence in the man to take on the challenge of the new and also the apprehension of the wife at this huge prospect of the unknown. In those days for most families once you had left you had said your goodbyes to kith and kin forever. Mum’s Great Uncle had completed a fencing contract on a pastoral lease at Jamestown S.A. and arrived in Melbourne with intentions of going to New Zealand to take up land that was on offer as an outcome of the Maori Wars. He arrived a day late for the sailing and the next was a month away. To avoid spending his contract savings he booked passage on a ship back to England, had he gone to New Zealand then we would all be in New Zealand not Oz.. It was his son who was next to come to Oz and he stayed and the rest followed over time. The fickle finger of fate Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. I thought I had responded to this comment. I must have started and then got sidetracked! My apologies. I think that you are very right in your interpretation of the picture. On your story, it is indeed the fickle figure of fate. Simple events and decisions