Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973


John Morrison, born in 1835, left Ballymena, Ireland for Australia with his two brothers Hugh and Robert, when the Bendigo Gold fields were opened about the middle of last century. After some time Hugh and Robert came to the South Island of New Zealand and settled in Geraldine and Christchurch later becoming successful businessmen. John returned to his home in Ireland where in 1865 be married Sara Ritchie, the second daughter of Captain James Ritchie of Ballywater, near Belfast. They lived for four years in the nearby village of Ballyferris where their sons Hugh and Robert were born.

Attracted by the discovery of gold at Thames, N.Z., John and Sara Morrison with their two young sons set out on the long voyage of 6 months aboard the sailing ship "Maori", arriving in Auckland on Christmas Day 1868. The family travelled to Thames and lived in a tent up the Kuranui Creek for 2 years. This is where their third son John was born in 1870. For some time Mr. Morrison was Manager of Kellys' Claim at Moanatairi [Moanataiari – E]. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Morrison had met and worked together in Bendigo and the fourth son, "William Kelly Morrison" was named after this friend.

Later the family moved out to Puriri where Mr. Morrison managed "Soda Springs farm". (The Smith Bros. own it now). It was on this farm that Mr. Kelly died suddenly while he and Mr. Morrison were out shooting. Excited after shooting a bird, Mr. Kelly dropped dead.

The Morrisons remained in Puriri for some 16 years; the greater part spent on a farm up the Valley and here Mr. Morrison established an apple orchard known later as "McLivers' Orchard". The growing of fruit trees was his real hobby and being an expert on grafting he soon passed on his skill to his sons. This instinct came out in a number of his sons, Hugh, John, Bill and Malcolm all eventually had wonderful fruit orchards. Hugh's name (was the first) on the Puriri School roll, he being the oldest child in the district when it opened. At the request of his School Master, he grafted a pear tree before an assembly of fellow pupils when he was only 13. The tree stood for a good 75 years and bore crops of fruit annually. However the conditions which prevailed in those days were not very conducive to a living from an orchard. The elder boys went to work for Messrs Larkin & O'Brien who had been given the contract to construct the Puriri section of the Thames-Paeroa railway line and the earnings from this supplemented the family income.

With a growing family Mr. Morrison had to look further afield, so in 1887 he sold out to Mr. McLiver and bought a block of 450 acres of land from the McCaskill Bros on the Kaimanawa Road at Hikutaia. With a family of 9 sons and 3 daughters, the youngest, 8 months old, John and Sara Morrison shifted to Hikutaia where they remained for the rest of their lives.

The land was heavy in Kahikatea bush and swamp. The timber was cut and rafted down the Waihou river (which bounded the land) to Bagnall's mill at Kopu. The clearing and draining of the land was slow and arduous so other work had to be sought to maintain the family, and some of the elder boys worked at times in the mines at Maratoto and Whangamata. (The trip over the hills to Whangamata was made on foot, the boys coming home once a month for fresh clothing and supplies.) (The second son Bob maintained his interest in mining most of his life and was for many years Manager of Blackball mine, Waiuta, in the Sth. Island.)

Great was the joy when enough land was brought in to support a few cows. Before the days of the dairy industry, as land was cleared the growing of oats and other crops became a profitable livelyhood. Mr. Morrison invested in a chaff cutter driven by a steam engine and this proved a source of revenue for a time. As dairying advanced the block of land was cut up and sold, 150 acres being kept with the homestead.

In 1901 Mr. Morrison purchased a launch, the first on the Waihou river to be driven by a petrol engine, for the purpose of conveying his milk and that of other settlers to the factory at Netherton. This his son Hugh successfully accomplished daily for six years despite the "wailings" from the many pessimists that "she'll stop one of these days and never go again". In 1906 Hugh took over the farm and the well known "Milkmaid" as the launch was affectionately named. I still hold the following testimonial written in my Grandfather's beautiful handwriting-

"Hikutaia, July, llth 1906.


I hereby certify that Mr. Hugh Morrison has been running continuously, averaging 70 miles per week, my Oil Launch "Milkmaid", since Sept. 20th 1901 to July 11th 1906, with perfect satisfaction.

Yours etc.


Some of the other sons were already on farms of their own in the district, and these are all being carried on by their descendants to-day.

Members of the original family of John and Sara were Hugh, Robert, John, William, Edward, Malcolm, Alexander, Maggie, Hans, Sophia & Ritchie (twins) and Catherine.

Hugh born 1866, married Mary Jane Innes, eldest daughter of early Wharepoa settlers, their family being Sadie (Mrs. Frank Strange) Agnes (Mrs. "Dixie" Allison) Arthur, Hugh (dec.) Jean (Mrs. Tom Dunwoodie, later Mrs. Allen) Malcolm, George, Jim, Innis (dec.).

Robert Ritchie born 1868, married Lucy Stevens daughter of an early hotel proprietor of Hikutaia their family being Howard (dec) Lucy (Mrs. Hutchinson) and Joyce.

John born 1870, married Isabella nee Adamson - early settlers of Netherton their family being: John (Dec) Hans, Hugh (Pat) Fred (dec) Ken, Allen (dec) Kath (Mrs. Sarjant).

William Kelly born 1872, married Clara Moore who died when their family were young, and later married May Gilmer a cousin of Clara. The family of William & Clara being Alex (dec) Doris (dec) Mrs. Ernie Moore, Frank, Marjory (Mrs. Weeks, Aust.) Alice (Mrs. Orr, Aust.) Violet (Mrs. Clarke), and William (dec).

Edward James born 1873, married Violet Sinclair a School Teacher in the district who came from North East Valley, Dunedin. They had two Sons, Eddie and Ritchie who returned with their mother to the South Island and are both School Teachers.

Malcolm Ritchie born 1876, married Isabella Murdock, daughter of early settlers, their family being Edward (dec) Carl (dec) Thora (Mrs. Russel Christie, Thames).

Alexander born 1878, died of appendicitis at the age of 22 years.

Maggie born 1880, married Samuel McMahon member of a well known Thames Coast family. They had two daughters Molly (Mrs. Rex Smith, Taumarunui) and Patricia.

Hans Woods born 1882, died at the age of 19 years following a kick from a horse.

Agnes Sophia born 1884, died at the age of 21. Her twin brother Ritchie married Gladys Bailey of Wharepoa their children being Max and Janet.

Catherine born 1886, married Ernest George Davis of England. Their children are Morrison (Morrie) and Phillis (Mrs. Stevens).

Shortly before he died in 1911 my Grandfather, John Morrison was very ill and living in Auckland, but the following letter is evidence of his lively interest in family affairs.

...Extract from letter:

"Devonport, October 17th 1911.

Dear Hugh, Mary and Children,

I can assure you I was never more pleased to get a letter than I was when I got yours.... Glad you got such good rain. You will now have a fine start on the grass. You did not say whether you were able to go to Hikutaia with the milk or how the grafts were growing. --- Look out for "suckers" on grafts and let me know all about them. ---- My health has not shown much improvement and I must add I do not know what I would have done without your Mother. She has helped me so much. May God bless you all is the sincere wish of

Your affectionate father, JOHN MORRISON."

Post Script - I regret that this story was not written while my father "Hugh Morrison" was with us for he had an outstanding knowledge and memory of early days. He died on 19-4-53 and my mother on 26-4-58. (S.S.)