Monday, August 4, 2014

STUART, Gordon George (1891-1916)

Private George Stuart, 8th Reinforcements, C Company, Ist Battalion,
Canterbury Infantry Regiment, NZEF. WWI service no 6/3485

Always known as George, he was born on March 12, 1891, at Maori Hill, Dunedin, to Robert James Stuart and Martha Amelia née Martin (born 1861 in Tasmania, Australia). George had three sisters, Emma (b.1883), Martha Mary Agnes (b.1885), Jessie (b.1888) and two brothers, William (b. 1887) and James David Alexander (b. 8.1.1890). [1] 

Robert James Stuart was born in Auckland in 1861 and grew up there. His parents, Robert and Elizabeth Anne (Eliza) (née McNeill) Stuart, were both Irish immigrants. At the age of 16, Robert followed his older brother Abraham Francis Stuart to Dunedin to work for the Otago Daily Times - both were compositors by trade.There they met the ill-fated Martin sisters, whose parents William Martin, an emancipist born in Birmingham, and Mary Ann (nee Lieburn) from Armagh, Ireland, had moved from Tasmania and settled in Dunedin. Abraham married 18 year old Sarah Jane Martin on 26 March, 1878, and Robert married Sarah's sister, Martha, at Knox Church, Dunedin, on the 1st of January, 1883. Sarah died at the age of 29 on November 23, 1891. Martha died a month later on December 28, 1891, following a long illness. She was 31. Robert Stuart was left both a widower and a bankrupt, with a young family of six, including baby George, and a mountain of debt incurred by five years' worth of medical and nursing fees. [2] He remarried in 1893 to yet another of the Martin girls, his sister-in-law, Rachel Cossgrove (née Martin), a widow with a 10-year-old daughter. Rachel died just three years later, on the 14th of February, 1896. 

Perhaps Robert Stuart couldn't cope after this second loss and his youngest children were found running wild on the streets by local authorities. Possibly still burdened with debt, he may have felt unable to support them and decided to put them into care. At any rate, an entry in the Register of Indigent Children Committed, dated 31 December, 1897, records the committal of the two youngest Stuart children, George (aged 7) and James (aged 9), to the Catholic-run St Mary's Industrial School in Stoke, Nelson. [3] 

St Mary's Orphanage & Industrial School, Stoke, Nelson

No reason is given for sending the two boys to Nelson rather than the local Caversham Industrial School in Dunedin, but the most likely one would have been that their parents were Catholic - it was standard practice for boys with a Catholic background to be sent to St Marys. While at St Marys the Stuart brothers would no doubt have worked on the farm attached to the school. This farm fed the orphanage and was used to train the boys as employable farmhands - local farmers would put down their names as being willing to employ these boys as they became old enough to go out to work. St Marys, also known as the Stoke Orphanage, was not a happy place and in 1900 was the subject of an Royal Commission of Enquiry, following allegations of abuse and ill-treatment.[4] The St Marys Industrial School burned down in 1903, and in the same year alternative arrangements appear to have been made for the Stuart brothers. Again, no useful detail is provided, though a cryptic note, "Gone to friends", is attached to George's record. Had George had been 'taken up" by a local family or charitable organisation? Perhaps, knowing they would need help on the farm they'd just bought, the Beatson brothers of Ngatimoti had put their names down at St Mary's for a couple of boys ready for employment?

Certainly, pre-war, George and his older brother, James (Jim), could be found working as farmhands at Ngatimoti, in the Motueka Valley. Described as "welfare lads" by George Beatson's son, Pat, in his memoir, The River, Stump and Raspberry Garden, they were in the care of the Beatson brothers, Guthrie and George, who had back-to-back farms at the Ngatimoti Peninsula. The Stuarts lived and worked as part of the Beatson family.[5] Years later, in 1939, George Beatson and his wife passed their Peninsula farm to their son Sam, and took positions as Master and Matron of Motueka's Whakarewa Orphanage, perhaps indicating a long-held interest in the care of orphaned children.

George and Jim Stuart are part of a Beatson/Brereton clan gathering at a Ruby Bay summer holiday camp, c.1913

The Beatson brothers were in their early twenties and partners in a sheep and cattle run up the Graham Valley when they were offered the chance in 1903 of buying a 120 acre block of river terrace, known as  "The Peninsula", from local resident Christopher Remnant. They had little money, but their good friend Gavin Strachan lent them enough to put down a deposit. Another friend, drover Ernest (Ern) Robinson from Orinoco, helped out by paying them in advance for a year's grazing on their Graham Valley run. The Beatson brothers had earlier worked with Ernest Robinson and his partners John E. Salisbury and "Greenhill Tom" Grooby, who mustered sheep and cattle from all round the district and periodically drove a mob down to Canterbury for sale at the Addington yards on behalf of local farmers. Ernest Robinson's nephew Ted Burrow was a WWI casualty.

There was a hop garden near the old Remnant homestead, a few acres of orchard - apples. plums, peaches and pears - but the top terrace was still in standing bush and the rest of the farm was covered with stumps, logs and blackberries. The most pressing job was to fell the remaining bush, and clear the farm of the stumps and logs. Until the Ngatimoti Peninsula Bridge was built in 1913 they were relatively isolated; all access to the main part of Ngatimoti involved crossing the river at a ford on foot or horseback, by boat or by making a precarious aerial crossing in a cage suspended from an overhead cable.

When the two brothers both married in 1906 the farm was divided into two 60 acres blocks. Guthrie Beatson, who married Helen Brereton, kept the half with the original homestead; George and his new bride, Helen's cousin Constance Whelan, built a new house on the top terrace of the farm.[6] Guthrie Beatson also kept the old Graham Valley run and continued to graze sheep and cattle there.

 Although they continued to work for George Beatson, it seems that the Stuart brothers later lived in one of several farmworkers' baches on Thomas (Tom) Brereton's property, and Jim Stuart is on record as receiving his mail C/-Tom Brereton. Thomas (born at Pokororo in 1880) was a son of Ngatimoti settlers William and Ann (nee Bridge) Brereton. He had seven brothers and sisters, including Guthrie Beatson's wife, Helen, and Cyprian Bridge Brereton, commanding officer of the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion during the war. Tom Brereton himself was the first to captain the local Territorials mounted unit, the 10th (Nelson) Mounted Rifles Regiment, upon its formation in 1911. In 1908, Thomas married Katherine (Katie) Cottrell. 
[7]  Her parents Anthony and Sarah were from Tasmania, where her grandfather, Anthony Cottrell Snrwas a man of significance, but had settled in Christchurch, where her father practised as a barrister and solicitor. Tom and Katherine had a farm not far up the road from the Beatsons', heading towards the Graham Valley and just past the Little Pokororo Bridge. Their old house still stands there today. The arrangement was that Katherine Brereton would provide an evening meal for the men renting these workers' huts on their land.[8]  The Stuart brothers may have worked for other farmers in the area as well as the Beatsons.

George Stuart had a reputation as a gun shearer who could shear as many sheep in an afternoon as others could over a whole day. He and his brother would have been doing general farm work –  cultivating, sowing and harvesting crops and looking after stock like the farm horses so necessary for any heavy work and sheep, pigs and probably a few dairy cows that needed milking twice daily. There was pruning, spraying, picking and packing to be done in the orchard. George Beatson was involved at the time in clearing about 20 acres of his land to put into raspberry gardens. Fruit crops were an significant source of extra income for Motueka Valley farmers at the time. Jim and George would have been doing some hard graft clearing scrub and blackberry and stumping before the land could be cultivated. Stumping was a follow-up to tree-felling. It involved working away with grubbers and crowbars to expose roots then applying a type of lever known as a stumping jack and using horse-power to pull the loosened stump out. In tougher cases explosives were used.

Both the Stuart brothers took part in community activities and would have had friends among the local lads to go hunting and eeling with, and social occasions in the community like picnics, cricket matches and games of tennis at the Peninsula tennis courts to enjoy. The raspberry picking season saw an especially sociable time, as an influx of girls from town, often trainee teachers, arrived en masse to enjoy a fruit-picking holiday. Known affectionately as "Raspberry Tarts", they would camp out in tents and whares (huts) and  although it was hard work, it was also a lot of fun. Plenty of country hospitality was part of the deal, and they enjoyed a number of well-chaperoned dances and expeditions to local scenic spots. Inevitably, some stayed on as local farmers' wives. One girl from Wanganui recalled spending the 1914 raspberry-picking season with a couple of friends at Guthrie Beatson's. She noted that they travelled on the coastal steamer "Koi" from Nelson (a two hour trip) and were met at the Motueka wharf by George Stuart, who drove them out to Ngatimoti in the raspberry cart, a bumpy, dusty 12 mile drive in those days. 

Jim and George Stuart also trained as part of the Ngatimoti contingent of the 12th (Nelson and Marlborough) Regiment of the Territorials.[9] 

George was single and aged 25 when he joined up with the NZ.Expeditionary Force, 8th Reinforcements. It was his second attempt at enlisting. He had apparently been rejected as being under the regulation minimum height of 5'4" (162.5 cm) when he first tried to enlist, but the growing demand for replacements may have meant turning a blind eye to required standards. He described himself as a farmer (more accurately a farm worker)  and if he ever had been a practising Catholic he was one no longer -  he gave his religion as Anglican. George trained at Trentham Camp. He was posted with ‘C” Company i.e. the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, on 23 August, 1915 and embarked for Egypt on the troopship Willochra. On the 6th of April ,1916, he set out for France on the Franconia, and on May 24, 1916, was attached to the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company. The ATC was at that stage fighting an underground war near Armentières. Later in the year their operations shifted to Hill 60 in Flanders. A small, wiry man, George's size, possibly the result of malnutrition as a child, would have been as great an advantage for a tunneller as it was for a shearer. In Britain, shorter but otherwise fit men became the basis for fighting units known as  "Bantams". Many of these men initially came from a mining background and were involved in tunnelling. George was killed in action in Belgium, 24 September, 1916.[10] His medals were later sent to his brother Jim, back in Ngatimoti.

Jim had enlisted with the 12th (Nelson) Company on the 17th of November, 1915. He listed as his contact an older sister, Martha Stuart, C/- of the Phoenix Biscuit Factory in Dunedin, as did George, so they must have been in touch with at least one of their other siblings. Unusually, neither of the Stuarts listed their father, Robert, as next-of-kin on their attestation forms, which indicates that he played no part in their lives. Robert Stuart had in the meantime married for the third time to Emily Eliza Welsh in 1900. Eliza died in 1921. Robert Stuart died in Dunedin in 1929 at the age of 67.

James Stuart, who was wounded twice, was released from active duty in November, 1918, as no longer fit for duty. [11] On his return to New Zealand he was in poor shape, and lived for a couple of years with his sister Martha in Dunedin. By 1921 he had returned to Ngatimoti, where he took up farm work again, but he was never the same. Pat Beatson noted grimly: "Jim came back so badly gassed that he eventually coughed his life away". [12]  Although he lived and worked as a farm labourer around Pokororo until at least the late 1930s,  he was either staying short-term or living in Marlborough when he finally succumbed to the chronic effects of gas poisoning. He was 56 when he died at Picton Hospital of pulmonary embolism on 12 May, 1945. Today he lies at the Picton Cemetery, where he was buried on the 15th of May, 1945, the committal service being conducted by an Anglican minister. [13]


George's grave is at the Tancrez Farm Cemetery, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium. He is one of only three soldiers from the NZ Expeditionary Force to be buried there. He is commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial, Tasman, New Zealand.



2) Meeting of Creditors: Robert James Stuart
Otago Daily Times, 2 February, 1892.

3) Title of Register - Register of Indigent Children Committed, 31 December, 1897. Ref: [DAHI/20434/D248]
Archives NZ, Dunedin Regional Office.

4) Complaints Against an Orphanage
NZ Herald, 27 July, 1900.

5) Beatson, C.B. (Pat). The River, Stump and Raspberry Garden. (1992) Nelson, NZ. Nikau Press, pg 93

6) Ibid, pg 7

7) Brereton-Cottrell Wedding
Nelson Evening Mail, 21 September, 1908.

8) Oral history - Brereton family recollections

9) Our Boy: Francis Alexander Cochrane Strachan. His Letters and Diaries, with a short record of his life. published privately by the family of Frank Strachan, in 1920, and printed by L.T. Wtkins, Wellington. Frank Struan of Orinoco was killed in action in France, on November 12th, 1916, aged 21.

10) Archives NZ. Military personnel record, George Stuart, WWI service no 6/3485

11) Archives NZ. Miltary personnel record, James David Stuart, WWI service no. 6/4152

12)  Beatson, The River, Stump and Raspberry Grarden, pg. 93

13) Marlborough District Council cemetery records database. Picton Cemetery: James David Stuart 

Further Sources

In Memoriam
Martin  - In memory of our beloved mother, Mary Martin, who departed this life at Bishopscourt, Dunedin, on the 30th December, 1892; and of our dear sisters, Sarah Jane and Martha Amelia Stuart.
- Inserted by their sorrowing daughters and sisters.
Otago Daily Times, 23 January, 1894, Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Note: Martha Amelia Stuart died at the end of 1891, but her death was not registered until early 1892.

Colonist,16 0ctober, 1916:  Personal War Notes

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman, George Stuart

The Tunnelling Companies 
Long, Long Trail website

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. First World War story: The Western Front.

Brown, Margaret C., Some Early River Crossings
Nelson and Marlborough Societies Journal, Vol 1, Issue 4, October, 1984.

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