Giving Thanks

Earlier today it was hot, really hot. The wind barely moved on the plot of earth where I worked. I rhythmically drove a spade, pitch fork and pick axe into the ground in the scorching heat, salty water seeping over my brow into my eyes. I wrestled with the ground, a mix of topsoil and clay, asking it to open its bounty and food-giving potential to me, stopping to save the lives of the worms as I went, tossing them into the compost bin we had constructed earlier out of scraps of sheet iron, recently felled gum trees and hand-dug holes. Near to me was a strong-jawed man in chaps and wet t-shirt, hacking the sharpened blade of a worn machete at the base of the head-high Wild Ginger. He cleared the tropical nuisance to extend the flat piece of land we were working on. Blisters formed and muscles burned as much from the work as from the heat in the sun. I dug. He swung. We tamed the land; readying it for its first garden. I have pioneer blood – I love this shit!

Now, I rest on a lumpy torn couch situated on a balcony 50 metres directly above the Thames harbour. The house to which the balcony belongs has the ethereal smell of Cyprus, is without power or kitchen, the water runs cold, the carpet is torn, wrinkled and loose. Animal traps, boots and stained clothes accompany me on the balcony to air in the evening breeze. The sun is setting, burning the sky orange and ocean a brilliantly speckled royal blue. The ocean sings its sloshy rhythm on the rocks below, the cicadas scream, and a warm summer wind is in my hair, up my skirt and in my breath, salty and clean. This is just another perfect moment among a billion similar perfect moments. I love New Zealand.  I love my heritage. I love being here.

I am a 5th generation kiwi born New Zealander. I want to give a resounding thanks to my ancestors who brought me here, whose blood I share.

The final resting place of my GGGrandmother Ellen Jane Dillen, and my GGGrandfather William Spearink in Featherstone Cemetery.  I leave them a note of thanks and some OSMs to get them through the next 100 years. Sad to see the tombstone broken.

Leaving a letter andOSMs to Ellen myGGGrandmother and William myGGGrandfather at their final resting place in Featherstone Cemetery.Sad to see the tombstone broken.

Dear Ellen Jane Dillen

You were brought to Nelson in 1840 as a founding settler as a one year old. You and your younger brothers grew up as the very first European kiwi kids, where having mud on your shoes, sand in your belly button, healthy lungs and strong bones was ‘normal’, unlike your poor cousins back in England where childhood death from disease remained their ‘normal’.

In Picton you helped your mum run a male boarding house for early settlers, and later travelled the country in what I can only imagine as trying conditions as a lone woman. You even worked for George Grey’s, the Governor General’s, wife as her hand maiden in Auckland. You would have gained insights into the world of what it was to be an early European New Zealander, from the optimistic young men come to mine gold, to the railway gangers, to the policy makers and their political concerns of the time.

Surviving as an attractive lone woman in a world both beautiful and harsh, and male dominated you had to be independent, strong and resilient. Thus, with woman like you in our genetic heritage it is no wonder that New Zealand woman were the first woman in the world to gain a political vote.

You died 91 years before my birth but I know your stories, passed on down to me from the independent woman before me. I have always felt a deep connection to you, and want to thank you in particular, as my life came at your cost. My life brought you death, along with the birth of your only child, my great grandmother.

Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my heritage. Thank you.

Juliet Jones
Your great-great-granddaughter.

My Great-great-grandmother Jane Dillen arrived in NZ in 1840.  Died in 1881 giving birth to her only child aged 41.

My Great-great-grandmother Ellen Jane Dillen arrived in NZ in 1840. Died in 1881 giving birth to her only child.

Ellen's daughter and granddaughters. My GGrandmother Wilhelmina and Grandmother Nellie on her knee.

Ellen’s daughter and granddaughters. My Great Grandmother Wilhelmina and Grandmother Nellie on her knee.


About Juliet Jones

Beauty is everywhere, if you but open your eyes
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3 Responses to Giving Thanks

  1. Peter Spearink says:

    Dear Juliet,
    I am related by descent to your ancestor William Spearink of Clanfield, Oxfordshire. I have been doing some research of late which is the first time since the early years of the internet circa 2000/1. I am amazed by how much more information is out there now. I was kindly sent some photos and history of William by one of your relations whose name escapes me at the moment but I will look it up later. I have a photo that he sent me of William with one of his daughters, which one I am not sure. He has an enormous beard which makes guessing his age at the time difficult. Sad to see the grave broken, I have a recollection that I was told that under his name he had Settler because he was proud to have been one of the first after the pioneers.
    I’ll try to send you the photo if you do not have it already. I assume you know of the Health Stamp connection to Beulah.
    Regards Peter Spearink, Staplehurst, Kent email

    • Juliet Jones says:

      Hi Peter, what a surprise your message was! Could I guess the man that sent you the photo was Peter Dillon of Christchurch? I only have one photo of William, big white bushy beard and little 4 year old girl with a page-boy hair cut … so if it’s that photo you have, the little girl is Wilhelmina (Polly) Spearink, my G-Grandmother. Also the health stamp is of Nellie Burt (my grandmother), not Beulah. If you are interested I can send you the info I have of that part of the family. I used to sit at the feet of my grandmother and listen to her stories, I wrote up as a historical-story not long after Nellie past. It is a little more interesting to read than just historical facts and dates, but as I am a story teller and not a historian, I can’t guarantee it’s accuracy.

      We where never sure if William was from Clanfield or Burford, or if the ‘a’ in Spearink was actually supposed to be there, so I guess you’ve cleared that up for us. And any more info you have of the Spearinks prior to NZ would be of great interest to us. SO … Anyway, I will scan those few pages from Nellie’s history at work tomorrow and send them to your email. Cheers Juliet Jones

  2. Pingback: One (TOO MANY) Square Meals |

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