Topic: Adela B Stewart: Mistress of Athenree by Jocelyn Davey

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Adela Stewart of Athenree Homestead is the subject of this entry into the 2011 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

The old Athenree homestead, to the north of Katikati has recently been restored.  Adela would be pleased. She came with her husband Hugh and only son Mervyn to New Zealand with George Vesey Stewart, the ‘father’ of Katikati.

Their parcel of land was at Athenree. Nothing could prepare her for life in New Zealand. She was well-educated; her husband was in the army and she had enjoyed the life and changes of scene.

In 1878 they began the ninety day voyage to Auckland. She writes of changes in weather, the misery of sea sickness, the fear of smallpox  and the pain and amusement caused by mumps.  They were pleased to reach their destination though Auckland was ‘a miserable place’ and they feared the tattooed Maori.

Soon the journey to Tauranga was arranged. There the people were friendly and they rented a cottage till they could get a trip to the northern end of Tauranga Harbour to take up their allotted land. After a three hour trip they left the boat and made their way over rough, undulating, uncultivated land, their future farm, feeling tired and dispirited.

This was a rare time when Adela admitted to misgivings, but then she took up the challenge of moving to Athenree. She and Hugh were a good team: young, enthusiastic and hopeful. There was soon a makeshift shelter erected and then they had help from farm cadets and servants to build.

Stables came first. Grand plans for the house were modified and the stables grew into the house. Hugh, with help, built the house and much of the furniture. Adela beautified her home and started a garden. She was hospitable. To have an abundance of food and produce and to maintain her welcoming lifestyle, she became self sufficient in eggs and table birds and used feathers for pillows.

She became an apiarist and kept the house in honey and vinegar. She brewed beer and later made wine from the many vines and fruit trees she and Hugh had planted. As her garden matured, she entered flower shows and became a judge at Tauranga.

Hugh took care of the cattle and sheep. Worrying by dogs is recorded. He also grew grain for milling and poultry feed. They enjoyed the bountiful seafood and built a smokehouse.

Cooking for her household and for her many guests was an enormous task. Governor Ranfurly stayed at Athenree, as did Mayor Goldie from Auckland, the Minister of Mines and the District Engineer. Mr Seddon came for lunch and the Bishop stayed at confirmation time. Te Kooti and his retinue declared the hospitality ‘kapai ‘and his ladies picked flowers leaving ‘absolutely not one bloom’.  Adela made a drill hose, sixty yards long to water her garden.

No one was turned away: itinerant tradesmen, tinkers or watchmaker; the dentist came regularly. Adela was dental assistant at one time. The piano tuner also called. She once had a visit from a swindler selling linen and there was great interest in Madame Spondini, clairvoyant and palmist. One commercial traveller arrived on a bicycle and lady cyclists called in. 

In 1886 the circus came to visit and Adela fed them all. That was the year of the Tarawera eruption and Adela swept up volcanic dust and put it in matchboxes to send abroad.

The first motor arrived on February 14th 1904.

The homestead had to be maintained and over the years was painted and re-piled. When the roof leaked the shingles were replaced with iron.  Adela’s comment: ‘more practical but less aesthetic.’

Just as she did the cooking and enjoyed the gardening she liked to sew; a relaxing task. In the second half of her New Zealand stay, her health was not good. She had rest trips to Auckland. When resting at home she spent time hemming linen and making shirts and pyjamas for her menfolk. She even repaired the upholstery for her buggy.

Nowhere does she reveal the nature of her ailments, but I suspect they were menopausal. There was no doctor until 1901 when a medical man was appointed to Katikati. Adela was a good correspondent and kept a diary that mirrored world affairs. 

Hugh was recalled to his regiment in Auckland during the Russian scare. The deaths of Prince Albert and later Queen Victoria were recorded and the locals agonised over the troops at the Boer War and were thankful at the relief of Mafeking.

The vagaries of the weather were noted, especially snow on the Kaimais.

Finally they put Athenree on the market, but only when they reduced the price were they able to sell it. In 1906 on the day they left she confessed to closing her eyes as they left their beloved home. The buyers only stayed a year and sold all they could off the property.

Adela, Hugh and Mervyn returned to England which they found much the same. In 1909 her beloved Hugh died and her friends persuaded her to write about her time at Athenree. Her book was called My Simple Life in New Zealand and it is still available.

Adela Stewart returned to New Zealand with her son Mervyn after Hugh died. Little is recorded of this second visit, except that she died on the day after arriving in Katikati. A notice in the Bay of Plenty Times of 14th February 1910 recorded with regret the passing of Adela B. Stewart, a woman well-known and respected throughout the area which she loved.


About the writer: From a young age Jocelyn Davey has enjoyed writing. She got 3rd prize for a Victory Poem in the Herald. Because she was a teacher words were her tools of trade.  Jocelyn was a farmer's wife for twenty years and wrote for the Exporter and other farming magazines. When they moved to Tauranga she joined Tauranga Writers and, she says “I really hit my straps with getting poems and articles published.” Jocelyn’s husband suffered a stroke in 1981 and writing seemed selfish, but “Now,”she adds, “I am indulging my passion again.”

‘Adela B. Stewart - Mistress of Athenree’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors Bay of Plenty Region with support from Tauranga Writers.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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