Family Roots Are Deep in the District

Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 55, September 2011

While Adeline McWatters (nee Lowry) has provided a brief glimpse of her early days in the Hikutaia area, her family’s ties with the Paeroa district go back over 100 years.

Her paternal grand-parents, Mr and Mrs William Forrest, arrived in Paeroa in 1896, while her maternal grand-parents, Mr and Mrs Robert Lowry, bought farm land in the Maratoto Valley in 1904.

Mr Forrest was born in Scotland in 1855, where he served an apprenticeship as a stonemason followed by studying architectural drawing. He entered business with his brother erecting a section of the Lanark waterworks.

Mr Forrest moved to America where he worked at his trade in several states before returning to Scotland to marry Jessie and they then sailed for New Zealand in 1883 in the first direct steamer, the "ss British King".

On their arrival in Auckland Mr Forrest set up business as a builder and contractor. After several years he moved his family to Palmerston North where he installed the first section of the town’s sewerage system and also undertook the drainage work on the Manganoho section of the Main Trunk Railway.

In 1895 Mr Forrest went to Western Australia for a brief period and returned to Paeroa in 1896 where he established his business and began to take a keen interest in the affairs of the town. In 1897 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and the District Coroner.

Mr Forrest was joined by two notable local businessmen, Messrs H. C. Wicks and W. G. Nicholls, to purchase part of Kusab’s sawmill at the Junction with Mr Forrest being in charge. In 1899 he had the Ohinemuri Light and Power Company, the local gas company, install a 13hp gas engine to drive the sawmill.

In 1901 the sawmill was destroyed by fire and during the rebuilding, Mr Forrest supplied timber from his railway yard and the mill’s wharf. He took Mr R. O. Clark as a partner and, trading as Forrest and Clark, they purchased Mr James McAndrew’s saw mill at the Junction.

Mr Forrest took great interest in local politics and was chairman of the Liberal Party’s Ohinemuri Electorate committee for several years, chairman of the domain board, and chairman of the school committee. He was a foundation member of the Masonic Lodge Ohinemuri No.107 in 1897 and superintendent of the Presbyterian Sunday School.

Further expansion came in 1903 when Forrest and Clark purchased a small steamer to collect rafts of logs, up to 10,000 feet of timber per raft, from Tapu and Waiomu and towed these to their Paeroa mill. One contract was for over 100,000 feet of kauri timber to be supplied to a mining company.

A local cartage contractor, J. Clarkin, was also engaged to haul kauri logs from the bush in the Maratoto Valley. At any one time there would be 200 logs in Alley’s paddock at Hikutaia waiting to be moved to the Paeroa mill.

In 1908 Frewell and Brinkler purchased Forrest and Clark’s sawmill business and property, which included the increasingly popular Paeroa mineral water spring. The new owners continued with the sawmill, but by 1910 had turned their main attention to developing the unique spring water with the formation of the Paeroa Mineral Water Company. The water was shipped to Auckland markets and by 1914 the first Paeroa and Lemon was coming on to the market.

Mr Forrest returned to Auckland where he returned to drainage works. After being rejected, owing to his age, from joining the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force to serve in World War One, he returned to England where he joined a labour battalion as a private. He served in France and was given a commission in the field and transferred to the Royal Engineers.

After returning to New Zealand in 1920, Mr Forrest lived in retirement in Auckland and then moved back to Paeroa in 1925, where he remained until he passed away late in January, 1937, aged 82.

On December 27, 1911, his daughter, Jessie, married Robert Lowry Jnr. at Hastings Hall, Western Springs, Auckland—the building still remains today and has been the base for many Lowry family reunions,

Among Adeline’s family memoirs, is the wedding invitation sent by Mr and Mrs Forrest, her grandparents, to Mr and Mrs Phillips and family, her husband’s Phillip maternal grand-parents who farmed close to Paeroa.

The Lowry family arrived in New Zealand in 1904 on the "Gothic" from Northern Ireland. Robert Snr, his wife and nine children purchased a 150-acre farm in the Maratoto Valley. Four more children were added to the family after their arrival.

A son, Robert Jnr. (Bob and Adeline’s father), after leaving the Hikutaia School, first worked for local farmers Alley Bros, and then spent a year in the Komata Reefs gold mine where he accumulated enough money to start his own business, a general store at Hikutaia. From here he packed supplies on horse back to bushmen, gold miners and kauri gum diggers in the Maratoto Valley and across to Whangamata. He also traded in kauri gum.

When, in 1914, the Alley family provided land for St. Mary’s Anglican Church at Hikutaia, Bob, who was now married to Jessie Forrest and had commenced a family, followed his mother’s involvement in the church by building some of the furniture and serving on the vestry. The Lowry family grew in numbers and around 1918 Bob bought the home farm from his father. He took a keen interest in his local community serving on many of the committees including chairman of the school committee. He was made a Life Member of the Alley Memorial Park Board in recognition of his long valuable service.

He farmed the property until just before the Second World War when it was divided between two sons Alex and Bruce. Bob and his wife stayed in the district until 1948 when they retired to Waihi Beach, where he soon became involved in that community, representing it on the Ohinemuri County Council for some 17 years. Bob died in 1971 in Auckland.

There were six children, Alex, Bruce, Bob, Jessie, Iris and Adeline. All went to the Hikutaia School, walking some three to four miles each way along a gravel road and in all weathers.

"Sometimes three of us would ride the pony to school", Adeline recalls, "and we learned to swim in the Hikutaia River."

"During the war years I worked as Land Girl on Uncle Alex’s part of the farm and often took the cream to the Hikutaia dairy factory," recalls Adeline. She applied for and got her first real job, at the Wharepoa Post office, where she later became the postmistress.

"I got a bicycle and I rode about eight miles each way, wet or fine, although if the weather was really awful I would stayed overnight with local families including Bax, Winder, O’Hara and Henwood.

"I remember one day after the McLeod family moved into the Wharepoa district, I was talking with son Jack, and I missed getting the mail on the train. It was the only ‘bluey’ I got during my time working in the Post office."

When the Wharepoa Post Office was closed in June, 1947, Adeline was transferred to the Paeroa Post Office and she rode her bicycle to and from work, a distance of some seven miles each way. Among those working at the Paeroa Post Office at the time were Eunice Morrison, Joy Moore, Elaine Laurent, Dorrie Robbins, Olive Fenton (Rationing Officer) who married Arch Davies, the Presbyterian Minister.

Adeline left the Post Office and worked for Hannah’s Shoe Store and then Gregson’s millinery and material shop.

In 1942 Adeline met Phillip McWatters, son of Mr and Mrs Dave McWatters, a long established Paeroa family. Incidentally both Adeline and Phillip were born in the Arohanui Nursing Home, in Taylor’s Avenue—the house is still there today.

Phil left to serve overseas in the New Zealand Army in Egypt, Italy and the J (Japan) Force. On his return he joined his father, Dave McWatters, in his menswear business, which had been purchased from Wm Cullen and was in Normanby Road, opposite the post office. Adeline and Phil were married in 1948.

The newly-weds built their first house in Thames Road, opposite the race course and the site of the Paeroa’s first creamery factory, which was erected in 1901. They then moved to Norwood Road and now reside in Keepa Avenue.

The couple have three children, nine grand children and seven great-grandchildren. One of their children John, was stricken with multiple sclerosis and lives in Williamstown, South Australia, He was awarded Life Membership of the South Australian Sky Diving Club for his outstanding services to the club despite his illness. John encouraged the club to purchase land from a local farmer so the club could have an airfield and he help to build the hangers and various other buildings. John met his wife, Kirsten, through sky diving and have two children, Drew and Carly.

"By the way, I got my driver’s licence, with Phil’s tuition, in 1954 in our 1937 Ford 8," adds Adeline.

She has been very active member of St Paul’s Anglican Church, provided and displayed flowers in the church for all occasions for over 50 years and a member of the Mothers’ Union group for about as long. A keen gardener Adeline is a member of the Paeroa Rose Society and the Paeroa Garden Circle.

She and Phil were members of the Paeroa Golf Club for over 30 years until "age" caught up with them some three years ago.

Adeline is now looking forward to the next Lowry family reunion in April, 2012, at Hikutaia. She will renew acquaintances and meet recent additions when over 100 descendants are expected to attend.

Click to enlarge, image will open in new window.

The McWatters family. Back row (l to r): Glen Archer, Liza Archer, Jan Archer, Jacob Lyons-Booth, Marie Ralls, Meagan Savage, Christy Ralls. Middle row: Adeline and Phillip McWatters, Rebecca Wilson. Front row: Lily Savage, Ali Smit, Taylor Smit, Holy Archer, Jonty Smit, Ben Savage. Absent: John and Kristen McWatters, Drew and Carly.

Back to Top
Keywords: