Sunday, September 28, 2014

GROOBY, Wilmot Robert (1897-1918)

Private Wilmot Grooby (known as Will), WWI Service no 31491,
C Company,  Canterbury Infantry Battalion,
19th Reinforcements, NZ Expeditionary Expedition.

In 1842 two brothers from Nottinghamshire, England set sail with their families for New Zealand on the ship Sir Charles Forbes, having responded to advertisements from the New Zealand Company seeking emigrants for their new colony. They were Edward Grooby (b. 1815) with wife Sarah (nee Hudson) and children Harriet, aged 4 and baby John, and Francis Grooby Jnr (b. 1817) with his wife Mary (nee Lewis) and one-year old daughter, Mary Ann. The Sir Charles Forbes was the first of the NZ Company migrant ships to sail from England to Nelson direct, arriving on August 22, 1842.

Edward and Francis were the first and second sons of Francis (1788-1876) and Sarah (nee Stapleton) Grooby. The Grooby family had lived since the 1780s and possibly longer in the small village of Newthorpe, near Greasley, about 18 kilometres north of Nottingham, on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire counties. Principal occupations in the area were coalmining and framework knitting, producing stockings, mittens and gloves.

In the early 19th century some members of the Grooby family had begun to work in the rapidly developing lace industry, however between 1814 and 1842 there was a marked decline in the prices paid to framework knitters for their finished work and a move towards a factory model; originally framework knitting was a cottage industry, with the whole household involved in some way. Nottinghamshire was an early centre of riots and protests against poor conditions for framework knitters. Times were hard and the future unpromising. The emigration of Edward and Francis Grooby marked the start of a wholesale family exodus which took place in four successive waves.

Framework knitters' workshop

Parents Francis Snr and Sarah were quick to follow their oldest sons, arriving in Nelson on the New Zealand Company ship Phoebe in 1843 with a further 10 members of the family. Twenty years later Uncle George Grooby (1794- 1872) came on the Bard of Avon in 1863; a widower, accompanied by his three adult children, two with partners. Lastly came brother John (1819-1894), third son of the elder Groobys. He came out in 1864 on the Anne Longton, with his wife Elizabeth (nee Ledger) and family. Over the course of twenty-two years, thirty-five close relatives had joined the original seven emigrants. Numbering forty-two in total, this was one of the largest single family groups to migrate to New Zealand in the 19th century. [1] When Grooby matriarch, Sarah, died at Pangatotara  7 October, 1876, aged 88, the Colonist noted that “Mrs Grooby Snr had ten sons and daughters, sixty-four grandchildren, seventy-two great grandchildren, and six great great grandchildren; making a total of one hundred and fifty-two direct descendants.” [2]

The two earlier Grooby groups established themselves on land at the top of Brook Street in Nelson, where they leased 300 acres south of the reservoir, on the western side of the valley. They cleared the fern-covered land and by 1845 had built 3 small houses and fenced and cultivated 4 acres, planted in wheat, oats and potatoes. Three years later another 4 acres was under cultivation and livestock added, including 30 goats. Around 1850 most of the family moved to Motueka, and began to settle on land along the eastern side of the Motueka River, mostly around the Ngatimoti/Pangatotara area. At least some of this land was ceded by grant to the Groobys by the New Zealand Company for services rendered, in lieu of cash. Francis Snr also purchased 40 acres of Crown land in Motueka in May, 1854. The two later groups of Grooby pioneers tended to settle in and around Motueka and the River Valley as well. 

John and Elizabeth, the last Grooby family immigrants, brought 10 children with them and an 11th was born in Motueka in 1865. John Grooby had been working for Mills & Elliott’s factory in Nottingham when he decided to emigrate to New Zealand. John had a 220-acre block of land, with 20 acres in orchard, situated at the West Bank along the Shaggery Creek. He made his living as a bootmaker and his son George picked up this skill as well. When he died in August 1894, John Grooby was buried at the Shaggery Cemetery.

 George Turches (sic - possibly a misspelling of Tertius) was John and Elizabeth’s fifth child and third son. He was born in England 25 April, 1850, and was already working for five shillings a week at a cotton mill (perhaps the same one where his father was employed) when his family took ship for the colonies. For a 16-year-old boy from an English industrial city, New Zealand's mysterious, heavily wooded countryside was initially a daunting place. "The land was so wild", he later remarked. Life in his new country nearly came to an abrupt end when George went to work on a sheep run in the Collingwood district. One day while riding a horse across the flooded Puponga River, he was thrown from the saddle and only escaped drowning by grabbing his horse's tail and hanging on. [3] 

The great flood of February 1877 wreaked havoc in the Motueka Valley, causing huge slips and sending trees, houses, livestock, silt and debris rushing down the Motueka River and out to sea. [4] By a strange coincidence, George happened to be at Farewell Spit at the time and spotted a churn he recognised as his mother's in the litter on the beach. He also saw a familiar dresser belonging to neighours, the Limmers, and miraculously still holding intact a wad of cash they'd tucked away for safekeeping. Not having heard of the flood but alarmed for his family's safety, he set out for home, 130km away, and found his family alive, but homeless. The Limmers also lost their home, but survived the ordeal of spending three days trapped in trees before they could be rescued. George later took up farming at Pangatotara on the West Bank of the Motueka River in partnership with his brother, Francis (Frank) b. 1842. Frank was the eldest of John and Elizabeth’s children.[5] Another of George's brothers, Thomas (known as "Rocky River Tom" to distinguish him from two other local Thomas Groobys), had a farm nearby at the headwaters of the Herring Valley, where he lived with his wife Emma (a Grooby cousin) and their 9 children.

In 1886, at the age of 35, George married Rhoda Martha Romelia Woodgate (b. 1868) from Picton. On her mother's side, Rhoda was the grandchild of English whaler and trader, James Worser Heberley, a very early settler, who ran away from home in Weymouth at the age of 11 and after many adventures in the South Seas arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1827.  He settled in Queen Charlotte Sounds in 1830.  Events during his tumultuous life included piloting Colonel William Wakefield on his 1839 expeditions to buy land from various Māori chieftains in New Zealand and being saved from certain death at the hands of a tomahawk-wielding Waikato warrior by Te Rauparaha, Māori chief and war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe, with whom Worser was well acquainted.[6]

In 1841 James Heberley married  Maata Te Wai Naihi Te Owai , daughter of Te Atiawa chief, Manupoinga.[7] James and Maata had 9 known children, the oldest being Margaret Mary-Ann Heberley, born 1832.

Worser Heberley and Te Wai

Rhoda's family life was complicated. Her father, William Henry Woodgate (1829-1877), was the subject of a sensational and contentious Marlborough murder case in December 1876, involving accusations that he did away with a baby born of his incestuous relationship with his teenage niece, Susan-Ann Woodgate. Rhoda's mother, Mary-Ann Heberley, had married Robert Woodgate in 1854 and had several children with him, including Susan-Ann and her sister Elizabeth, who was called as a witness in the case. Elizabeth was also reputed to have had a relationship with her uncle, William Woodgate. After Robert died in 1863 Mary-Ann set up house with her brother-in-law, William, and had several more children with him before her death in 1873. The evidence against William Woodgate was largely circumstantial, but he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. This verdict was an unpopular one - Woodgate had had many supporters, who set up a petition on his behalf. With the authorities fearing unrest, the sentence was carried out privately and without notice at Picton prison very early on the morning of 25 January, 1877. The executioner was New Zealand's notorious 19th century hangman, Tom Long.

A Motueka connection was formed when following their father's execution, the now-orphaned Rhoda, aged 7, and her siblings Thomas (8), Julia (5) and Robert (4) were placed into care for a few months at the Hulmers Orphanage at Lower Moutere, situated on Chamberlain Street near the junction with Hursthouse Street. Also known as the Wallis Family Children's Home, Hulmers was privately run with the help of their own children by Richard and Mary Ann Waliis, who had a genuinely compassionate and kindly interest in the welfare of their charges, and took in children from as far afield as Nelson and Greymouth. The Woodgate orphans were returned to Picton in November, 1877, but soon reappeared on the roll at Hulmers in January 1878 under the alias "Woods". This was the surname later given by Rhoda when she married George - perhaps the change was made to protect the children from the scandal associated with their father.[8] Rhoda was at Hulmers for about 6½ years, before being placed in service with Mrs Rumbold Snr. of Motueka in 1884. She may have met George Grooby through her sister Julia, who in 1885 was placed with Mrs John Brereton of Pokororo.[9]

Rhoda Grooby (nee Woodgate), Wilmot's mother.

Rhoda and George made their home at the Groobys' Rocky River farm. Rhoda had a much admired gift for animal husbandry, perhaps picked up from time spent on the Hulmers farm. The couple had 13 children; Wilmot Robert Grooby, born 5 May, 1897, was their 8th child. He had 8 brothers; Reginald, Gordon, Alvin, Frank Heberley, Leo George, Gilbert, Gerald and Cedric, and 4 sisters; Grace, Edner, Romela and Sylvia. [10]

George’s bachelor brother and partner, Frank Grooby, purchased 11 acres from George Kemp, the land being subdivided from the Kemp’s farm, possibly when his brother George got married. The Kemp house was upon a terrace, on the north side of Rocky River near the mouth, where it joins the Motueka River, but Frank had a smaller cottage (still in existence today) much nearer the Rocky River, close to the current one-way bridge. Frank never married and died in September, 1914.

Wilmot would have grown up in the family home, a two-storey house roofed with thick English iron, situated on the terrace above the river flats. This house was later used for storage and having become totally borer-ridden, was purposely burnt down in 1964 when Cedric Grooby owned the farm and replaced on the same site by the "Railway House", brought down from the tiny NZ Railways settlement at Kiwi, Tadmor. The Grooby brothers’ farm was a freehold property comprising 338 acres on the west side of the Motueka River just below the current Alexander Bluff Bridge. It extended up the Rocky River, from where a bridle track was formed over the hill to the Herring Valley, where further land was farmed.[11]

It seems likely that Wilmot went to the Rocky River School, which was near his home and built on land donated by the McNab family, who had previously run the Rocky River Household School. Wilmot may have gone to this Household School before the Rocky River School opened in 1903. Things weren't always straightforward at the Rocky River School. At times it was closed for lack of a suitable teacher, and like other Motueka Valley schools, it was all but deserted during the hop and fruit-picking seasons, with many of its pupils being kept home to help out with the harvest. Ngatimoti, Orinoco and Rocky River Schools were singled out for particular mention in this regard by a frustrated Nelson Education Board. The relationship between the Rocky River School and Wilmot's family became strained in 1908, when his mother, Rhoda, accused Elizabeth (Lizzie) Alexander, the teacher at that time, of assault on one of her sons, almost certainly Wilmot. During the resulting court case the magistrate found in favour of the teacher, but she resigned soon afterwards.[12]

The family probably went to St James Anglican Church for Sunday services, a trip which would have involved crossing the Motueka River in the years before the Alexander Bluff Bridge was finished in February, 1909. The Ngatimoti Peninsula Bridge was not opened until 1913. The children attended Sunday School and filled in time playing together while their parents caught up with each other after church. As well as his brothers and sisters, Wilmot grew up surrounded by a multitude of Grooby relatives, including his Uncle Tom's family just down the road. He would have taken his share of the chores around the farm, but also would have found time to play around with friends, cousins and siblings; eeling, swimming and boating on the river, going to picnics, and hunting when older. He would also have spent time training with the Senior Cadets and the 12th (Nelson and Marlborough) Territorials Regiment.

Work on the bridge at Alexander's Bluff began in mid-1906 and continued for three years, during which time Wilmott's older sisters, Grace and Edna, got to know and went on to marry two of the men employed on the bridge build - Edna married Henry (Harry) Thomas and Grace married Andrew McKeany. Watching the slow progress of the bridge and the connecting road creeping along the West Bank to join it would have been an ongoing fascination for Wilmot and his siblings. It proved a fatal fascination for Wilmot's 17-year-old cousin, Reuben Grooby, youngest son of "Rocky River Tom", who was crossing the Motueka River in a canoe on the 7th of July, 1906, with Wilmot's brother, Gordon, and a young carpenter called Wilson who was working on the bridge. The canoe got caught up in some staging surrounding a pier under construction and overturned. The other two managed to pull themselves up on to the staging, but Reuben was swept away and drowned.[13] A reminder of the ever-present danger river crossings posed before bridges were built, even for those who grew up with the river as a constant in their lives.

In 1910 Wilmot’s uncle Frank retired and his father George, by then 68, carried on running the Rocky River farm with the help of his sons. In all, George Grooby would spend 60 years working on the same farm. No doubt as soon as Wilmot left school at the age of 14 in 1911, he would have become involved full-time in farm work. The Groobys’ Pangatotara farm had hop and raspberry gardens and other berry fruit crops like strawberries were grown. There were Winter Cole pears, and an apple orchard on the land by the Herring Stream. Livestock were carried - in 1905, 400 crossbred sheep were recorded, mostly being run at the Herring. There would also have been work horses, a few cattle and dairy cows, pigs and poultry to care for, grain and root crops to be cultivated and harvested, plus regular maintenance like fencing – plenty of work to keep George Grooby and his sons occupied.

George’s farm had a Motueka River frontage and it is recorded that in season whitebait ran up in river in such quantities that the family netted them and applied them by the bucketful to the hop plants as fertilizer!

In July 1916, at the age of 19, Wilmot enlisted with the 12th (Nelson) Company of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, though he would later be transferred to the No 1 (NZ) Divisional Employment Company, probably because of his poor health.[14] Like many young men he bumped up his age when joining up, recording it on his attestation form as 1896 to bring him up to the official enlistment age of 20. Poor Wilmot was in for a particularly miserable war, with much of it spent in hospitals or rehabilitation.  He presents a perfect case study for those interested in the progress of the Spanish “Flu from the hotbed of the trenches during WWI to world-wide epidemic following the demobilisation of troops after the war’s end. Wilmot was first sent for training to Trentham Camp where he came down with influenza and was admitted to Wairarapa Hospital in August, 1916.[15] He embarked on the Tahiti for overseas duty in November, 1916, sailing from Wellington to Devonport, England. He remained at Sling Camp, Wiltshire, until he was posted to the Western Front in France in March, 1917. He promptly came down with the ’flu again in Étaples. This was a more virulent and contagious strain, now associated with the Spanish 'Flu of 1918 [16] and he was sent to England, where he was admitted to No 2 (NZ) Hospital at Walton-on-Thames, and later the Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital for NZ servicemen on the outskirts of London. 

By June 1917 Wilmot was well enough to be deployed back to France as part of the No 1 (NZ) Divisional Employment Company, but arrived just in time to be killed in the field at Ypres, Belgium, on 12 August, 1917. He left behind a fiancee, Lily Goad, who was also a  Grooby descendant.

Wilmot’s brothers Reginald and Gordon also served during the war, but came home. His brother Frank also enlisted, but the war ended before he was called upon to serve. At least six Grooby cousins were killed in action, and many others served and returned. Three Woodgate cousins from Marlborough served as well. One, Charles Edward Woodgate, was killed in action at Ypres on 20 November, 1917,  just 3 months after Wilmot.
Wilmot's brothers Reginald (seated) and Gordon (standing)

There were further losses in Wilmot’s family after the war. His mother, Rhoda died in 1923.  Three brothers died in accidents. Gordon, who survived his time at the Front during the war, died aged 33 on 27 February 1924 at Owen Junction in the Buller, as the result of bacterial endocarditis. He had married Wilmot's former fiancee, Lily Goad, in 1922, and it's believed that Wilmot had asked Gordon to look after her should anything happen to him. Sadly, it would prove a short marriage. Lily later remarried to Howard Robinson and had a family. Gerald was 27 when he was killed in December, 1930, while felling bush in the Rai Valley. Gilbert was seriously injured by a falling tree while felling timber near Reefton and died on June 13, 1936, at the Inangahua Hospital. He was 32. 

                   A family celebration to mark the 100th birthday of George Tertius Grooby (seated)
                     on the 25th of April, 1950, held at the Belgrove home of his youngest daughter,
                                                                       Sylvia Barton, nee Grooby.

Wilmot’s father, George Turches Grooby, continued to farm with the help of his son Leo George (known as George Jnr) and was one of the first in the area to move into tobacco production. George Turches lived on for many more years, and still had his sense of humour and all his wits intact in April, 1950, when he celebrated his 100th birthday with his extended family at the Belgrove home of his youngest daughter, Sylvia Barton (nee Grooby). As Anzac Day became accepted as an annual  day of remembrance for the fallen of World War One, it's easy to imagine that his yearly birthday celebrations on the 25th of April must have become a time of mixed emotions. The proud recipient of a congratulatory cablegram from King George VI, George Grooby died soon after, on June 11, 1950, and is buried with his wife Rhoda at the Motueka Cemetery.
Wilmot's cetificate of service with
the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force.


Wilmot Grooby lies beneath a headstone at Nieppe Communal Cemetery, Nord, France, and is commemorated on the brass memorial tablet inside St James Church, Ngatimoti, Tasman.

Further Sources

1  Marshall, Russell. Grooby : notes on the life and times of the Grooby family of Nottinghamshire, England and Motueka, New Zealand. Wellington, N.Z : R. Marshall, 2001

2  Colonist, 10 October, 1876 Local News : A Venerable Dame.

3 A Nelson Centenarian. (George Turches Grooby, 1850-1850)
NZ Free Lance, May 10, 1950, pg. 22

4  The Flood at Motueka
Nelson Evening Mail, 12 February, 1877

5  Cyclopedia of NZ , 1906. Nelson and Marlborough Provincial Districts: Pangatotara. Grooby Brothers (Francis & George) pg  228.

Early Days in Maoriland: An Interesting and Stirring Career.
Evening Post, 3 October, 1899, plus additional genealogical information about James Heberley and his family.
Family Trees Circle website

7  Te Wai Heberley (also known as Maata Te Naihi Te Owai) : A Biography
Wellington City Libraries

Regina v Woodgate
Marlborough Express, 6 December, 1876.

9 Mears, Elspeth. The Wallis family children's home (1989) Westport, NZ: E. Mairs, pg 32.(Register and account book record) The Woodgate alias Woods children's fees were covered by the Government.

10 Family tree per : George Turches Grooby and his children

11 Oral history, T. Grooby, Motueka.

12 School Teacher and Pupil: Charge of Assault Dismissed.
Nelson Evening Mail, 23 October, 1908.

13 Fatal Boat Accident in Motueka River.
Colonist, 9 July, 1906

14 Archives NZ. Military personnel record: Wilmot Robert Grooby.

15  Members of the NZ Divisional Employment Company acted as support troops and as such they carried out a wide range of duties including running Divisional baths, laundry, canteen and recreation rooms, stores, clothing depot etc.  Duties were lighter and it was sometimes chosen as a service option for soldiers who were less robust for some reason or another.

16  Étaples Flu Epidemic 
WWI Centenary, University of Oxford.

Further Sources

Knitting Together : The Heritage of the East Midlands Knitting Industry

The Orphanage at Motueka: A report on the Wallis Family Children's Home.
Colonist 27 September, 1870.

Tasman Roll of Honour. Kete Tasman: Wilmot Robert Grooby.

Photo Credits

Portrait of Wilmot Robert Grooby
Tyree Studio Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum Permanent Collection, ref. 99150

Framework knitters' workshop
Framework Knitters' Museum, Nottingham.

Portrait of Worser Heberely and his wife Alexander Turnbull image collection.
Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: PAColl-5800-12

Photographs of Rhoda Grooby (nee Woodgate), Reginald and Gordon Grooby, George Turches Grooby's 100th birthday celebration and Wilmot Grooby's certificate of service during WWI all courtesy of the Inwood family.


  1. Thank you for this, I have an original painted large photograph where they have combined Wilmot's photo and Gordon and Reginald's photo you have above. It is in its original frame and was given to me by their sister. Tracey Coleman (nee Grooby)

  2. Good to hear from you, Tracey. Very cool to have in your possession that photograph of the 3 Grooby brothers who served during WWI.

  3. Just found this by accident. My Nana Lily (Mary) Goad was going out (or engaged) with Wilmot. When he didnt come home she ended up marrying Gordon. As the story I have heard goes Will asked Gordon to look after Lily. Sad they were not married long and had no children. She went in to marry my granddad Howard Robinsin.

    1. Sorry my name dud not come up. I am Jeanette and my mum was Margaret (nee Robinson).

    2. Hi Jeanette, thanks for getting in touch. and for this extra information. I had no idea about Wilmot's relationship with your grandmother. How sad that he died before they could marry and then his brother Gordon died not long after they married. Good to know that she remarried and had a family. I see that your grandmother had a Grooby grandmother herself on her mother's side - the Mary Ann Grooby who came out to NZ in 1842 as a one-year old with the first Groobys on the ship "Sir Charles Forbes". So your grandmother would have been related to some degree to Wilmot and Gordon- I guess that's how they came to be connected with each other.

  4. My Uncle Colin has all our family papers including the Grooby line(s) as yes they are on Nanas side as well as marrying into them. I have a lively photo of them but cant see how to post it to you