Topic: Samuel Middlebrook (1856-1945)

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Sam Middlebrook had a long association with Katikati. When Vesey Stewart came to Tauranga in 1874 to look for land, the Survey office assigned young Sam Middlebrook to assist him. Sam guided him through the trackless swamps and hills to the Katikati block.

Three months later Vesey had acquired the block of 10,000 acres for his settlement. Sam wrote in a letter to AJ Gray in 1935: “….it was two or three days with Mr. Vesey Stewart examining the block. Previous to this I took another party to examine the block, about six months before, and we went to Kauri Point by boat, but the mosquitos were so bad they returned to Tauranga the next day. The leader saying he would not take settlers there to be eaten alive by mosquitos.” The mosquitoes must have been vanquished by the cool nights of autumn.

Sam in his Orange Order regalia. Photo courtesy of Colin Lomas


Sam was born in Millbridge, Liversedge,Yorkshire. His farther John, a brewer, had married Ellen Farrar in 1847 and Sam was their sixth child of seven. In 1862 they sailed from Liverpool on board the Shalimar arriving in Melbourne later that year where they appear in the immigrant records. But they probably continued with the Shalimar on to New Zealand. John purchased 83 acres of land in Whangarei in 1864, and a further 177 acres at Matakohi. Sam spent his youth in this area and became fluent in Maori and a keen observer of Maori life. He joined the NZ Survey Department under Captain Archibald Turner, the Tauranga District surveyor. Sam may have been involved in the survey of the road to Rotorua through the Mangorewa gorge and as far afield as Taupo. The first recorded mention of Sam is in the BOP Times account of the Boxing Day Sports in 1875:

“..….. The [greasy] boom being lashed to the end of the wharf beyond which it extended some yards over the water., the fun was great to see the struggles of the competitiors in their attempts to walk along the greasy surface of the pole and seize the goose tied up in a box at the end of it, their efforts for some time being rewarded only with a ducking in the water. The difficult feat was at length accomplished by S. Middlebrook who triumphantly seized the prize and claimed it for his own.”

Sam lived in Tauranga for about four years and then joined the second party of Katikati settlers, although he did not participate in the land grant. He was an ideal settler in that he could turn his hand at many trades. He was at various times a butcher, a baker, and maybe even a candlestick maker. His first slaughterhouse was in Lindemanns Road, then in 1880, in partnership with a Mr. Jeeves, set up a butchery on Lot 32 Waterford (the present day site of the Presbyterian church) 1880, was soon sold to the Stone Bros & Co. Pioneer Store. He was a general handyman around the district and he tried his hand at mining in Te Aroha and Waihi. He became a partner in the abortive attempt to revive the Eliza mine at the end of Thompsons Track. In 1882 he married Mary Jane Rea and they had six children: John (Johnny) (1884), Margaret (Dot) (1886), Ellen (1888), Robert (Bert) (1890), Mary (Maisie) (1896) and Elizabeth (Bess) (1898). His wife and eldest son John died before he did. He was an Orangemen in the Katikati Lodge. He was a versatile sportsman and played the accordion and concertina.

Sam Middlebrook and children

Sam Middlebrook and his children. L to R. Bess, Johnny, Sam, Maisie, Dot, Bert and Ellen (Suppplied by Colin Lomas)

cutter between Tauranga and Katikati . After his wife died in 1936 he lived on a houseboat he had built in 1920. He sailed it on the harbour but it wasn’t designed for the open seas. It was built of totara with kauri used in the upperworks. It used the “Union engine” salvaged from his previous boat, which had been wrecked by a stray kauri log in the Tuapiro river during a flood. He retired to Waihi a few years before he died.

Sam on his houseboat 

Sam in his houseboat on the Uretara, 1926.  Photograph courtesy of Colin Lomas

Sam acquired a fine collection of Maori artefacts over the years, mostly as payment for translating documents in cases before the Maori Land Court. This collection has been gifted to the Katikati Heritage Museum by the Middlebrook descendants.

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Samuel Middlebrook (1856-1945)


First Names:Samuel
Last Name:Middlebrook
Date of Birth:1856
Place of Birth:Millbridge, Liversedge,Yorkshire
Country of birth:England
Date of death:1945
Spouses name:Mary Jane Rea
Date of marriage:1882
Fathers name:John Middlebrook
Mothers name:Ellen Farrar
Name of the children:Elizabeth (Bess), John (Johnny) , Margaret (Dot) , Ellen, Robert (Bert) , and Mary (Maisie)