Tuesday, August 26, 2014

THOMASON, Alfred Roger (Alf) (1882-1918)

Private Alfred Roger Thomason, B Company, Wellington Infantry Regiment.
 WWI service no 52113, 28th Reinforcements, NZEF.

Alfred Thomason was born at Orinoco in the Motueka Valley on the 20th of September, 1882. He was the second child and oldest son of Thomas and Priscilla (nee Lloyd) Thomason, who married at the Motueka Registry Office on October 29, 1879.[1] He had an older sister, Sarah (Sissie) and two younger siblings, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and  Leslie John, b. 1888.

His father Thomas’ parents, Esmy and Hannah (nee Newberry) Thomason, had emigrated with 7 children from Northants, England on the Emma Colvin in 1856, along with Esmy’s brother, Benjamin, and his family. They all settled in Spring Grove, Waimea South.[2]

In 1866, Thomas Thomason’s older sister, Sarah, married George Lines, who was born in Wakefield in 1847. George's parents, Thomas and Ann Sarah (nee Blackwell) Lines, were English immigrants, also from Northamptonshire, who had arrived in Nelson on the Thomas Harrison in 1842. William Giblin, a Motueka storekeeper, had married Emma Beatson, daughter of architect William Beatson, in 1858. Giblin bought land at Orinoco in 1865 (Section 13, square 3 Ngatimoti), close to his three Beatson brothers-in-law, David, Arthur and Charles Edward, but had no success as a farmer and returned to his shop in Motueka, at the corner of High and Greenwood Streets. In 1867 he sold his section of densely bush-covered land up the Orinoco to George Lines, who built a slab hut with hand-sawn timber on the flat. However it proved a damp and unhealthy environment and after two of their children died of diphtheria ,George moved the house up on to the hill where Edenhouse Lodge stands today, and so survived to some extent the great flood of 1877 which ruined many Motueka Valley holdings, though he may have lost stock on the flat. [3]

When his wife Sarah’s parents both died in 1869, George took in five of his orphaned young in-laws: Esmy Jnr, Henry (Harry), Thomas (Tom), Mary Jane and Ann. The boys would have been a particular asset on a labour-intensive farm as they grew up, and George later helped all three of them to get farms of their own.[4] Esmy Jnr worked his way into a 200 acre block at Tadmor.  In 1879 he married Sarah Anne (Annie) Inwood, daughter of Henry and Susannah (nee Grooby) Inwood of Pangatotara. Henry Thomason had a 70 acre farm at Pangtotara where he ran sheep, grew raspberries and had a large orchard. He married Esther Delaney, a daughter of Martha (nee Haycock) and James Delaney, a local landholder and at one stage operator of the Ngatimoti Butter Factory at the foot of Church Hill. The land for Henry and Esther's farm, which they called "Echledale", may have been the bride's dowry.[5]

Sarah and George raised eight children of their own, no doubt helped by Sarah’s two sisters; a son, William (Bill), and seven daughters. One of their daughters, Emma Lines, married Ernest (Ern) Robinson, whose family farmed for a while at “Middle Bank” in Lloyds Valley. [6] Ernest was the uncle of Alfred’s wife, Mabel, and for many years worked as a drover with local identities John E. Salisbury and "Greenhill Tom" Grooby, driving mobs of cattle and sheep to Canterbury and the West Coast to sell on behalf of cash-strapped Motueka Valley smallholders.[7]

George was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, who until after the First World War enjoyed a harmonious relationship with their Anglican neighbours in the Motueka Valley. He was well-liked and known as an extremely hard-working, kindly man. In addition to breaking in and running his farm, he worked with his horse team as a roading contractor, in company with relatives-by-marriage, John Canton (who married Jane Thomason) and Roger Lloyd (whose daughter Priscilla married Tom Thomason). Although largely self-sufficient and often able barter for goods, early settlers had to be versatile; road work and sawmilling provided an important source of hard cash, allowing them to buy farm equipment and grocery staples like flour and sugar. 

George’s farm eventually comprised 600 acres and carried around 300 sheep and 30 head of cattle. He also grew grain and had an apple orchard. One of the first in the Orinoco Valley to plant hop gardens, George had two kilns on his property and was able to profit from the world-wide shortage of hops in 1883.[8] He bought outright the extra land he was leasing from E.F. Johansen at this time, and using the plans for a kitset Number One Colonial Cottage from "Brett's Colonial Guide", built a new house on the hill using his own timber. As the timber was milled, each piece of wood was numbered to help with the construction and a later owner in the 1980s commented that you could still see the numbers on some of the rafters. Sarah died 25 June, 1901 and was buried at the Waiwhero Cemetery. George died at his Orinoco home 7 July, 1915, leaving a third of the farm to his son Bill, and the rest to his daughters.

The Mount Pleasant homestead c. 2000
George Lines' No 1 Colonial Cottage still going strong on top of the hill over a hundred years on. 
It has since been replaced by Edenhouse.

When land in the Rosedale Valley was surveyed around 1880, some of it was designated “lease in perpetuity”, which let in farmers unable to afford freehold land. About the time of his marriage, Tom Thomason took up a piece of this Rosedale land (Section 1) with a road frontage on the south side, a couple of km. from the Thorpe-Orinoco Road.[9] He would have run it as a typical smallholding of the time, with some stock, sheep and cattle, pigs, a dairy cow or two and poultry, plus grain and root crops, along with grass for hay. Tom was especially interested in his children's education and involved with various committees campaigning to get a branch school set up at Orinoco, along with his father-in-law, Roger Lloyd, Alexander White and Ernest and Alfred Robinson, uncles of his future daughter-in-law, Mabel. When the Orinoco School District was constituted in March, 1900, Thomas Thomason was one of those elected to serve on the committee set up to manage the school.

Orinoco School photo, mixed age class of 1894. 
Alfred Thomason is in the back row, 3rd from the right, next to his sister Lizzie. Sister Sissie with the long dark hair is in the 3rd row (righthand side) two along from the teacher, Miss Esther Eves, who would later marry Victor Holyoake and become the mother of Sir Keith Holyoake, New Zealand's 26th Prime Minister and Governor-General between 1977-1980. Brother Leslie Thomason is sitting at the far left end of the 4th row

His son Alfred would have initially attended the larger Ngatimoti School up on Waiwhero Road near the church (known locally as the Big School), but can be seen gazing rather glumly from the back row of the Orinoco School class photo taken in 1894, the year the school opened. It was built on land donated by Alex White of "Craigholm"[10]  One of Alexander White's paddocks also saw regular service for community picnics and the hard-fought but mostly friendly cricket games contested by teams from all the local areas: Motueka, Upper Moutere, Dovedale,  Lower Moutere, Pangatotara, and so on. Alf's father, Thomas, was a keen cricketer and Alf himself was well-known for his cricketing skills. The Tom Thomason family were members of the Church of England and no doubt attended St James Anglican Church, sited at the junction of Waiwhero and Thorpe-Orinoco Roads.

Spraying fruit trees.
Spray was pumped from a tank on a horse-drawn cart.
After he left school, Alf was employed around the district as a farm labourer and contractor.
Frank Strachan of  "Manawatane", which shared a boundary with Alf's property, noted in his diary on 2 September 1915, "A. Thomason came and sprayed our orchard. Bottom orchard, lime and sulphur; top orchard, red oil." Red Oil Emulsion (a petroleum based product) was at the time a popular treatment for scale and aphid infestation. Alf was recorded on the 1911 Electoral Roll as an "engine driver", the term in this case used to denote his work with agricultural equipment, like his spraying apparatus. He also grew hops on his Rosedale farm between 1905 and 1911. Sawmilling became a primary occupation when he formed a working relationship with this old school-mates, George and Herbert (Bert) Heath, who ran a portable steam-powered sawmill in the Orinoco Valley, area, milling native timber from about 1913. This sawmill was bought from Bernard (Bern) Tomlinson, who with his brother Albert (Alb) had used it earlier to clear bush on the Orinoco farm of Charles E. Beatson. To provide work for his sons, John Heath had  taken 500 acres of Rosedale bushland between 1898 and 1906 after it was offered as a Lease in Perpetuity option.

Around 1901, Annie Burrow, widowed daughter of Robert and Mary Robinson, came to live in the Orinoco; her parents and brother Ernest Robinson were farming up Lloyds Valley. With her came five of her six daughters – Bessie, Edith, Ivy (Pearl), Mabel (May), Evelyn (Lyn) and her only son, Edward (Ted). The Burrow family settled at "Bank View", a farm on the north side of the Orinoco Road which another of her brothers, Alfred, passed on to Annie after he moved with his family to Takaka. Three of the Burrow girls soon married, all to sons of local farming families. Bessie married Norman Burrell, Edith, Herbert Canton and Pearl, Edward Haycock – and on June 7, 1911, Alfred Thomason married Mabel Burrow.[11]

Alfred and Mabel

The newly married couple moved to Alf's farm up the Rosedale Valley, near the Thorpe-Orinoco Road junction, not far from Alfred’s parents' farm on the opposite side of the road and sharing a boundary with the Strachans of Manawatane - in fact Alf's block of land was in all likelihood purchased from the Strachan family. In the months before his wedding, Alfred built a nice house for his bride-to-be, with a verandah from timber he probably milled himself while working with the Heath brothers on the Cederman property bordering his father's land to the north. Directly opposite their new home was "Clearburn", where Alf''s sister Lizzie and her husband James (Jim) Sutcliffe lived. The Heaths were cousins of Alf's brother-in-law, Jim - they were all grandsons of long-time Ngatimoti schoolmaster, Richard Sutcliffe.

 Sometime around 1916, George and Bert Heath moved their mill into Motueka and set it up at a site on the corners of High and Wharf Streets, where they produced wooden packing boxes for the apple industry. The plan was for Alfred to move into Motueka and continue working for them there, but the house the Heaths had offered to build for Alfred and Mabel in town was slow to materialise and perhaps he was getting a bit fed-up.[12] Timber milling was regarded as an “essential industry’ in NZ during the war and men employed in it were exempt from military service. At any rate, when the call for the 28th Reinforcements went out, Alfred Thomason and his wife’s young brother, Ted Burrow, joined up together at Motueka on the 31st of January, 1917, with Alf describing himself as a self-employed farmer on his attestation form. As was the custom in the area for men heading off to war, a farewell function was held for Alf at Orinoco on the 20th of April, 1917 and a second at the “Big School” on 20th June, 1917, when he was presented with a wrist watch.[13]

The house that Alf built.
Rosedale Road home of Alf & May (nee Burrow) Thomason

Alf embarked for Plymouth, England on the troop ship "Waitemata" on 14 July, 197. He had trained with the 12th (Nelson) Regiment of the Territorials previously, and enlisted with the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, but was transferred to B Company, Wellington Infantry Battalion and trained with them at Sling Camp in England. His unit arrived in France on 29 October, 1917, and Alf then served in the trenches on the Western Front for the duration of his war. He was 35 when he was killed at Bapaume, France, on August 31, 1918. [14] He was buried at Bancourt Cemetery, with Army chaplain Rev. E. M. Jones conducting the committal service.

His brother-in-law, Ted Burrow, died of sickness in Palestine a few months later, on the 1st of November, 1918, and is buried at Gaza Military Cemetery, Israel.[15]

Alf Thomason’s younger brother Leslie also joined up. He returned but never recovered his health after being gassed during the War. He took over his father Thomas' Rosedale farm and died in 1943 at the age of 55.[16] Their cousin  Albert Vernon (Bertie) Thomason was killed at the Somme 29 September, 1916, six months after his father Esmy Jnr died of cancer. Bertie's older brother Arthur also went to war, but returned. Another cousin, Herbert Henry (Bert) Thomason, served during the war as well. He was the son of Tom Thomason’s brother, Henry. Bert was wounded at Gallipoli and awarded the Military Medal. He saw out the rest of the war and served again during the Second World War. He served as a councillor with the Motueka Borough Council from 1953 and was Mayor of Motueka from 1953-1968. He was also a founding member of the NZ Returned Servicemen's Association, established in 1916, and had a close involvement with the Motueka branch of the RSA.

Alfred Thomason’s widow Mabel and her unmarried sister Evelyn moved away from the area with their mother and widowed sister, Minnie Nimmo, and her children.They first went to Appleby where Mabel's uncle Ern Robinson had land, then to Richmond and Wakefield. Their mother Annie died at Pigeon Valley in 1929 and from 1930 to 1970 Mabel and Evelyn settled together at a home bought earlier by their mother and known as ”Waituna”, about a kilometre up the Orinoco Road from the St James Church junction. Alf and Mabel's Rosedale Road house was sold firstly to Ken Grooby and then to Welshman Donald Irving Llewellin (known as "D.I."), a returned serviceman new to the area, before being accidentally burnt down. Only the large stump of an old tree is left to mark its site. Mabel was one of those early daring women recorded by the Waimea County as owning and driving her own car - a Dodge. [17] Alf and Mabel had no children of their own, but a few years after Alfred’s death, Mabel adopted a son, called Peter Thomason, who stayed in the Orinoco Valley and became a tobacco grower. He built a house next-door to "Waituna" where he lived and raised hhis family.  Although he never lived there, Peter completed the circle by buying as part of his tobacco growing operation the farm that had belonged to George Lines and once been home to Alfred Thomason’s orphaned father, Tom.

Waituna, the Orinoco Valley home Mabel shared for many years with her sister, Evelyn,
and Mabel in her trusty Dodge.


Alf Thomason is listed on the Nelson-Tasman Roll of Honour. He lies beneath a headstone at the Bancourt British Cemetery, Pas de Calais in France and is commemorated at the Ngatimoti War Memorial, Tasman, New Zealand. His name is also inscribed above the epitaph "Thy Will be Done" on the headstone which marks his father Thomas' grave at the Dovedale Cemetery, Tasman, New Zealand.


Nelson Evening Mail, 31 October, 1879

2)  Stringer, Marion, Just another row of spuds, pg. 591

3)  Bell, Jeni. Orinoco Days, Ch. 2 The First Owners. Unpublished ms.

4)  Pioneers of the Valley, pg 17.  Motueka and District Historical Association (1980) Journal Vol 3. Special Edition, compiled by J.R.Canton

see also:  George Lines, Ngatimoti pg 139
Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts (1906)

5) Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts (1906)  
i) Esmy Thomason Jnr, Tadmor Valley pg 145
ii) Henry Thomason, Pangatotara pg 228
iii) James Delaney  Ngatimoti, pg 140

6) Pioneers of the Valley, pg 11

7) Salisbury, J. Neville. Bush, Boots and Bridle Tracks, pp. 231-232. Pub. J. Neville Salisbury, 2006.

8) Orinoco Days, Ch. 2

9) Pioneers of the Valley, pg 62

10) Pioneers of the Valley, pg 21

11) Marriage cert 1911/6138 Mabel Alice  Burrow-Alfred Roger Thomason
Births, Deaths and Marriages Online: Historical Records

12) Oral history: S.J. Heath.

13) Whelan, Helen, Ngatimoti is in the News. Unpublished ms.

14) Personal war items: Notification of the death of Pte. A.R. Thomason
Colonist, 16 October, 1918.

15) Archives NZ. Military personnel record: Edward Benjamin Burrow

16) Personal Items: Return of Private L.J. Thomason of Orinoco. Also mentions his brother Alfred Thomason.
Nelson Evening Mail, 17 October, 1918.

17) Johnston, Aileen, Women Car Owners: Extracted from the Waimea County Council Register of Motors, 1912-1924. Nelson Historical Society Journal, Vol.6. Issue 6, 2008

Further sources

Droving, from No Roll of Drums, by C.B. Brereton (1947) Wellington, NZ: A.H. & A.W. Reed, Ch. xiv, pp.140-145

Archives NZ.  Military personnel record: Alfred Roger Thomason

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman: Alfred Roger Thomason

Second Battle of Bapaume History of War website.

Photo credits

Portraits of Alf Thomason, Alf & his wife Mabel together  and Mabel's home and car from the Robinson Family History, courtesy Christine Decker.

Mt Pleasant homestead, c. 2000, courtesy E. Stevens.

Orinoco School class of 1894 from Pioneers of the Valley, pg 21.

Spraying fruit trees
Nelson Provincial Museum/Kingsford Collection

Alf and May's Rosedale Road home, courtesy D. Burrell

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