Bells and Bibles

Bell and Bibles

Museum Kaiwhakaako, Āwhina Twomey, wanted to show us a ship’s bell and two Bibles that once belonged to pioneer Jock McGregor.  The big – and heavy – bell and Bibles were laid out on a table below decks (in the basement) for our inspection. The Bibles are actually one Bible in two parts, the second starting at the Book of Isaiah.

The bell bears the legend ‘John McGregor’ in an arc pattern, underneath which is a representation of a Scottish thistle. Beneath that is ‘Aberfeldy Station’ and around the rim is inscribed ‘In London 1876’. The inscription is all in upper case.

The clapper has long since gone, but the bell was once used to regulate comings and goings at Aberfeldy Station and, later, to announce closing time at the museum. It was later returned to its owner, Dr Maurice Watt of Dunedin but has since found its way back to the museum.

Inside the front cover of the Bible(s) is a McGregor family history of the 19th century, written in ink, parts of which are faded and stained, but on the whole it is still mostly legible. The publication date is 1795 in Roman numerals and the bottom line reads “Printed by M Brown in the Flesh Market, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne”. Isn’t that quaint?

So why is Āwhina interested in these one-time possessions of Jock McGregor?  Because she is a direct descendant of Jock via his only child, Teone.

There are many accounts of the life of Jock McGregor but I’ve used the one written by Flora Spurdle in New Stories of Old Whanganui, first published in 1958.  Mrs Spurdle called Jock ‘that versatile Scot’, a man who traded around the New Zealand coast long before the NZ Land Company’s ships arrived. Jock built his own ships and one day, while sailing into Wellington Harbour in a brand new 30 ton schooner, he got a big surprise to see ships bearing settlers. He, therefore, called his little ship Surprise and it is from that ship the bell in the museum originates.  The Surprise was the ship that carried the goods that Edward Jerningham Wakefield used to ‘buy’ Whanganui. Jock was one of the few early sailors who got his ship across the Whanganui bar without getting wrecked.

A popular story led to the lower part of Shakespeare Cliff once being called McGregor’s Leap. It was 1847 and things were tense between the settlers and the local Maori. Captain Campbell and Messrs Allison, Bell, Gilfillan and McGregor had all made arrangements to send their cattle away. Jock was at the top of the cliff looking for some of his stock when he was fired upon by five Maori. He ran and jumped off the cliff, landing in the river. He was rescued from the water by a young officer, who bravely took a boat to him.

Later Jock bought a large area inland from Sedgebrook – he called the place Cherrybank. He later bought another big area of land some 20 miles up the Parapara and called it Aberfeldy after his Scottish home. It still bears the name to this day.

Mrs Spurdle tells the story of his child thus: When Tu Tepourangi, chief of D’Urville Island was asked to help the Muaupoko (Horowhenua) during the struggle with Te Rauparaha, he arrived with his followers and his daughter Hinekawa.  Te Rauparaha was victorious and Tu Tepourangi and his daughter hid on Jock’s ship, which was lying off shore. Te Rauparaha came on board and killed the chief but Hinekawa had hidden up the mast in a furled sail and he did not find her.  Jock married her ‘Maori fashion’, and they had a son, Teone.

Āwhina Twomey is seven generations removed from Jock but the family history in the Bible also gives her a connection with Rob Roy and an ancestor who died at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

Āwhina heard about the Bible(s) through her uncle, George Kereama, who was doing some family research at the museum, but she didn’t know that Jock actually settled in Whanganui. Neither did her uncle George, who, with his wife, once spent the better part of a trip to Scotland trying to find his grave. All the while it was right here in the old cemetery in Heads Rd.

It was the book Making Waves by Felicity Campbell that enlightened her and Āwhina attended the book launch at the Wanganui East Club and spent some time at Cherrybank on the day. Sadly, the original homestead has gone but a descendant of Jock McGregor once again stood where he once grew fruit for Whanganui.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in May 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.


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